Saada: dozens killed in air raid, Riyadh denies responsibility

UN Secretary General: escalation "must be stopped". For Médecins Sans Frontières it was "a terrible act of violence", "other attacks" reported. Saudi fighter jets strike in Hudaydah, killing three children. According to initial information, at least 70 people were killed and 200 wounded, but the toll is likely to rise.

Sana'a (AsiaNews) - Saudi Arabia denies all involvement in the air raid that yesterday hit a prison in Yemen's Saada province, in an area controlled by the Houthi rebels, and that caused the death of dozens of inmates. Eyewitnesses claim that at least 70 people died in the attack, including some African migrants. This massacre has aroused deep international indignation, and has been condemned by the United Nations and by the Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who says that "this escalation must be stopped". 

The official Saudi agency specifies that the [Arab coalition led by Riyadh, which also sees the presence of the Emirates and fighting against the Houthis] "will inform the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) about the facts and details".  Riyadh says the target hit in Saada was not on the list of sensitive targets to be avoided agreed with the OCHA and had not been reported by the ICRC. Moreover, it would not have met the standards set by the Third Geneva Convention on prisoners of war. 

ICRC spokesman Bachir Omar reports of 'more than 100 dead and wounded' and the number 'will increase'. For hours rescuers have been pulling corpses and bodies from the rubble. Volunteers and operators are still working in the area, but hopes of finding more survivors fade as the hours go by. 

Only in the next few days will it be possible to draw up an exact death toll, but it is clear that the 70 victims announced so far represent a provisional figure that will increase. Ahmed Mahat, head of Médecins Sans Frontières Yemen points out that 'the Al-Gumhourriyeh hospital has so far received around 200 wounded and has said it is unable to accept new patients'.

"From the accounts of colleagues in Sa'ada, we know that there are many bodies still at the scene of the attack and many people are still missing. It is impossible to know the number of people who lost their lives," the Msf chief continues. It seems to have been a terrible act of violence. Last night there were also air attacks in Sana'a, where the airport was hit. We have also received reports of air strikes in many other governorates in the north of Yemen. As of this morning, there is no internet connection.

In the meantime, Saudi Arabia has confirmed the air raids in Hudaydah, another territory disputed with the Houthis. Three children, who were playing not far from the telecommunications centre, were killed in the attack. The Riyadh-led coalition stepped up military action in response to the drone attack by the rebels on the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The war in Yemen broke out in 2014 pitting the Saudi-backed government and Iranian-supported Shia Houthi rebels.

In March 2015 the conflict escalated when Saudi Arabia decided to get directly involved, resulting in more than 10,000 dead 55,000 wounded. However, independent observers put the death toll for the period between January 2016 and July 2018 at about 57,000.

For the United Nations, the war is “worst humanitarian crisis in the world”, aggravated by the “devastating” COVID-19 pandemic. The situation is such that millions people are close to famine with children expected to suffer consequences for the next 20 years.