A Saudi-led coalition said yesterday it would investigate an air strike that killed dozens of children in Yemen, an apparent shift of stance on an attack Riyadh initially portrayed as a legitimate military action against its Houthi foes.
At least 40 children were killed in Thursday’s strike on a bus in northern Yemen, the armed Houthi group said, raising the toll of children killed in the raid, the latest in a series of mass casualty air strikes in Yemen’s war, from 29.
The strike by the Western-backed alliance outraged human rights groups and was strongly condemned by UN officials.
Henrietta Fore, executive director of the UN Children’s Fund Unicef, said the “horrific” attack marked “a low point in (Yemen’s) brutal war”.
The United Nations called for an independent investigation of the raid which hit the bus as it drove through a market of Dahyan, a town in the Houthis’ home province of Saada.
Announcing the coalition probe, the Saudi Press Agency quoted an alliance official as saying: “The coalition is firmly committed to investigating all claims regarding mistakes or violations of international law, to sanction those who caused these incidents and to provide assistance to the victims.”
The Western-backed alliance had said the air strikes had targeted missile launchers and were carried out in accordance with international humanitarian law, describing them as a “legitimate military action”.
Houthi-run al-Masirah TV cited the group’s health minister Taha Mutawakil as saying that the estimated number of casualties stood at 51 killed including 40 children, and at least 79 people wounded, of which 56 were children.
The ICRC’s Yemen Twitter account reported the same toll yesterday, citing authorities in Saada.
It had said on its Twitter account yesterday its medical team at the ICRC-supported hospital in Saada had received the bodies of 29 children, all under 15 years old.
The hospital also received 48 wounded people, among them 30 children.
The coalition carried out new air strikes yesterday, killing a girl and injuring several other people whose home was targeted in the Marib province, east of the capital Sanaa, al-Masirah TV said.
The Houthi-run Saba news agency said their forces fired a short-range ballistic missile at a camp of military units backed by the Saudi-led coalition, south of Marib.
The Houthis on Friday hailed a call by UN Secretary-General Ant?nio Guterres’s for an “independent and prompt investigation” into the air strike.
“We welcome the call of the secretary general and we are ready to co-operate,” the head of the Houthis’ supreme revolutionary committee, Mohamed Ali al-Houthi, said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, a British Foreign Office minister said yesterday that a transparent investigation must be held into an air strike.
“Deeply concerned by reports of yesterday’s attack in Saada, Yemen resulting in tragic deaths of so many children. Transparent investigation required,” Alistair Burt, Minister of State for the Middle East, said on Twitter.
“UK calls on all parties to prevent civilian casualties and to co-operate with UN to reach a lasting political solution in Yemen.”
In Paris, the French foreign ministry said France condemned the strike and backed a UN call to bring all parties in the war together for talks in Geneva on September 6.
Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Houthi movement in a three-year-old war, lies on one of the world’s most important trade routes for oil tankers, the Bab al-Mandeb strait.
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