United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres has condemned airstrikes in Yemen that reportedly killed more than 70 people this week.
A facility in the northern city of Saada, which was used as a temporary holding center, was hit by a Saudi-led coalition in the early hours of Friday, killing dozens of detained migrants. Three children were also reportedly killed in a separate strike while playing on a football field in Hodeidah located 350 km south of Saada, according to rights groups. The death toll is expected to rise.
If confirmed, the raids would mark some of the deadliest ever for civilians in the seven-year war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and Gulf-backed Yemeni forces.
Earlier this week, Saudi state media reported that the Gulf coalition had begun bombing Houthi strongholds and camps in Saada after the Houthis claimed to have hit Abu Dhabi in an attack that killed three people and injured six more. The coalition had said that it also intercepted eight drones fired toward Saudi Arabia the same day.
Mr Guterres said the “escalation needs to stop”. His spokesperson Stephane Dujarric noted that further deadly strikes were also reported in other parts of Yemen.
“An airstrike on telecommunications facilities in Hodeidah has also significantly disrupted vital internet services across much of the country,” Mr Dujarric said in a statement. “The secretary-general calls for prompt, effective and transparent investigations into these incidents to ensure accountability.”
He added that Mr Guterres reminded all parties that they were obliged to “ensure that civilians are protected against the dangers arising from military operations, adhering to the principles of proportionality, distinction and precaution”.
People inspect the wreckage of buildings that were damaged by coalition airstrikes in Saada
Save The Children also called on the international community to investigate the killings saying children in Yemen were dying simply because they were trying to play.
“It is horrifying that scores of people – migrants who have nothing to do with anything of this – have been killed as collateral damage in a war that has lasted seven years and has caused suffering for millions of people,” said Amjad Yamin, a spokesperson for the group.
Yemen has been in the grips of a bloody civil war since 2014 when the Houthi rebels took control of swathes of the country after ousting the recognised president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a key Gulf ally.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners, including the UAE, launched a bombing campaign in 2015, followed by a ground invasion to re-install their ally. But seven years on, there is little hope of an end to the fighting, which has killed at least a quarter of a million people, according to the United Nations.
It has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in terms of numbers, including pushing millions to the brink of famine.
Earlier this week, the Yemen Data Project released an update revealing a surge in coalition airstrikes and civilian casualties in December, with 32 civilians killed and 62 injured.
Additional reporting by agencies