10/08/2016, 14.02
YEMEN – SAUDI ARABIA
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Yemen conflict: one-third of Saudi air strikes hit civilian targets

The findings come from the Yemen Data Project, a group of academics, experts and human rights activists. Out of 8,600 attacks by the Arab coalition, almost 3,200 hit schools, mosques, hospitals, markets, and residential areas. A market in Marib governorate was hit 24 times. For Riyadh, "collateral damage" is kept at a minimum.

Sana'a (AsiaNews) – More than one-third of all Saudi-led air raids on Yemen have hit civilian sites, such as school buildings, hospitals, markets, mosques and economic infrastructure, this according to the most comprehensive survey of the conflict.

The findings, revealed by The Guardian, contradict claims by the Saudi government, backed by its US and British allies, that collateral damage is being kept at a minimum.

The survey, conducted by the Yemen Data Project, a group of academics, human rights organisers and activists, sheds some light on Saudi operations in Yemen and western support, especially US and British, for Riyadh.

For the UK, this support comes with arms sales to Saudi Arabia worth more than £3.3 billion since the Saudi air campaign began in March 2015.

Saudi Arabia has disputed the Yemen Data Project figures, describing them as “vastly exaggerated”, and challenged the accuracy of the methodology, saying that some buildings might have been schools a year ago, but were now being used by rebel fighters.

Since January 2015, Yemen has been the scene of a bloody civil war opposing the country’s Sunni elites led by former President Hadi, backed by Riyadh, and Shia Houthi rebels, who are close to Iran.

In March 2015, a Saudi-led Arab coalition began attacking the  rebels, sparking criticism from the United Nations over heavy casualties, including many children.

So far, some 10,000 people, including more than 3,700 civilians, have been killed, and at least 2.5 million have been displaced.

The independent and non-partisan survey, based on open-source data, including research on the ground, recorded more than 8,600 air attacks between March 2015 and the end of August 2016. Of these, 3,577 were listed as having hit military sites and 3,158 struck non-military sites, plus 1,882 sites whose nature remains unknown.

The Yemen Data Project has chosen to focus exclusively on the impact of the air campaign rather than fighting on the ground – even though Houti also carried out atrocities towards civilians – citing the difficulty of gaining access to frontline fighting and impartial information.

Its findings are based on information and eye-witness accounts to the repeated attacks against schools and hospitals, and will add to demands for an independent investigation by the United Nations.

In one case, a school building in Dhubab, Taiz governorate, was hit nine times. A market in Sirwah, Marib governorate, was struck 24 times.

The Saudi-led coalition hit more non-military sites than military in five of the past 18 months. In October 2015, the figures were 291 versus 208; in November, 126 versus 34; December, 137 versus 62; February 2016, 292 versus 139, and March, 122 versus 80.

Over the course of the war, the survey lists 942 attacks on residential areas, 114 on markets, 34 on mosques, 147 on school buildings, 26 on universities and 378 on transport.

Interviewed during a visit to London, the Saudi foreign minister, Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir, portrayed the Saudi air force as professional and armed with precision weapons.

At the same time, he said that the Houthis had “turned schools and hospitals and mosques into command and control centres” as well as “weapons depots in a way that they are no longer civilian targets. They are military targets.”

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