Saudi-led coalition admits killing civilians in airstrike in Yemen ‘by mistake’
The coalition spokesman, Colonel Turki al-Maliki, expressed “deep sorrow” over what he called an “unintentional and accidental incident” that resulted in “collateral damage” and also expressed “sincere sympathy” to the airstrike victims’ relatives, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported.
Al-Maliki also said that the coalition forces had completed the investigation into the incident and conducted a “comprehensive review” of selected military objectives to examine whether they were compatible with international humanitarian law and customary rules of targeting.
He also said that the airstrike was targeting a legitimate military objective, which was a Houthi rebel command center. The coalition “was not intentionally targeting” the residential buildings that were eventually hit in the strike, he added, accusing the Houthis of deliberately using civilians as human shields by placing their military facilities in residential districts.
He then re-affirmed the coalition’s “commitment to the full implementation of the provisions of international humanitarian law, especially on the protection of civilians and application of highest standards of targeting as well as legal and ethical commitment to the principle of transparency,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.
Friday’s attack targeted the Faj Attan area on the southern outskirts of Sanaa in the early morning and claimed lives of at least 14 civilians, including children, as two residential buildings were reduced to rubble.
The incident took place just two days after the coalition hit a hotel located in the Yemeni capital, not far from the Houthi checkpoint. That airstrike also killed dozens of people. The attack on the hotel was condemned by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which said the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for protecting civilians in Yemen.
The coalition actions were also condemned by many human rights organizations. Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East research director, called on the UN “to look at the evidence” and take action against the Saudis, adding that “schools and hospitals… lie in ruins, hundreds of young lives [were] lost to reckless air strikes,” as reported by AFP.
The International Committee of the Red Cross condemned Friday’s airstrike, calling it “outrageous.”
"Eight of the victims were members of the same family, including five children between three and 10 years old," said the deputy head of the Red Cross delegation in Yemen, Carlos Morazzani.
"Such loss of civilian life is outrageous and runs counter to the basic tenets of the law of armed conflict," he added, as cited by AFP.
The UN also accused the coalition of carrying out an attack on the Yemeni southwestern Taez province that killed 20 people, including children. "In the week from August 17 to August 24, 58 civilians have been killed, including 42 by the Saudi-led coalition," the UN OHCHR spokeswoman Liz Throssell told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
The coalition led by Saudi Arabia has been waging a military campaign against Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen since March 2015, in an attempt to put the ousted Yemeni president back in power. Since the start of the campaign, the coalition has been repeatedly accused of killing dozens of civilians in its airstrikes but it rarely took responsibility for such incidents.
The campaign and Saudi-imposed blockade of the impoverished nation have contributed to a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, including a major outbreak of cholera and continued malnutrition of the population, human rights organizations say.
Major Western powers, inducing the US and the UK, have been contributing to the Saudi war effort by selling Riyadh weapons and providing the coalition air missions with refueling and targeting intelligence.