‘Unintentional mistake’: Saudi inquiry contradicts MSF account of coalition strike on Yemen hospital

‘Unintentional mistake’: Saudi inquiry contradicts MSF account of coalition strike on Yemen hospital
A Saudi-led investigative committee has failed to recognize Riyadh’s fault in the bombing of an MSF hospital in Yemen in August. The new assessment of the tragedy sharply contradicts the NGO’s findings.

After allegedly verifying the facts of the August 15 bombing of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in the Yemeni city of Abs, the Saudi-led Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) said that the strike which destroyed the hospital engaged “legitimate” targets.

On that August day, according to the JIAT report, prior to the MSF strike, coalition forces had already attacked a Houthi leadership gathering in Abs when they noticed a vehicle leaving the area.

“As a result, the air crew monitored a moving vehicle from the same targeted site heading southwards, pursued and shelled it immediately. The vehicle was next to the building which had no signs of [being] a hospital before the bombing,” Mansour Ahmad Al-Mansour, a JIAT spokesman said Tuesday.

“In light of what has been viewed from the facts of the incident, the team found that damages of the originally-untargeted building were due to the targeting of the vehicle, a legitimate military target, which was next to the [hospital] building,” the spokesman added.

The Abs attack killed seven people and injured 13 others, JIAT determined contradicting the MSF death toll which said 19 people were killed, including one MSF staff member. The strike also injured 24 others.

The JIAT account also strongly diverges from the MSF summary of events on August 15.

“Around 3.35pm local time, a civilian car, identified by eye witnesses as a white Toyota Corolla city taxi, brought in patients who were said to have been injured in the earlier airstrikes in the area,” MSF said in its findings in September.

The car was then visually inspected at the gate by a hospital guard who testified that the people in the car had been wearing civilian clothes. Furthermore, the guard stated that there were no weapons visible inside the vehicle, which contradicts JIAT claims that the car was a “legitimate” target.

“At this precise moment – at 3:40pm local time – the airstrike took place, making impact at the exact place where the vehicle had stopped,” MSF said.

The MSF account also contradicts the Saudi probe conclusion that the hospital was not marked. The NGO noted that the MSF logo had been clearly displayed at the entrance to the medical facility and was also painted on the roof of several buildings.

Furthermore, the location of the Abs hospital had been known to all parties in the conflict with GPS coordinates “regularly shared.”

“The latest communication of the GPS coordinates for all MSF operations was on 10 August, followed by an amended communication the next day,” MSF said in September.

JIAT’s assessment also contradicts the findings of an Associated Press report which concluded that Saudi-led jets targeted a civilian vehicle carrying a wounded ice-cream vendor who was passing by the site of the initial Saudi strikes. AP also confirmed that the MSF facility had clear markings on the roof and that the location was listed among the 23,000 buildings on a no-target list provided by the United Nations to the coalition.

Despite the irregularities in the JIAT findings, Mansur speaking on Tuesday still maintained that the strike was an “unintentional mistake” as he urged the coalition to apologise and provide assistance to the families of those affected.

MSF has worked in Yemen since 1994. An escalation in the conflict in early 2015 led to MSF scaling up its operations in the country. The MSF facilities have been targeted by the coalition four times since March 2015, and the August attack caused MSF to withdraw medical staff from six hospitals in northern Yemen.

Before August 15, 2016, MSF had been working in 11 hospitals and health centers in Yemen and providing support to another 18 health centers with more than 2,000 MSF staff in the country, including 90 international staff.