United Nations condemns mounting casualties after intensive air campaigns and says conflict has no military solution.
Sixty-eight Yemeni civilians were killed in two air raids by the Saudi-led coalition in one day, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Yemen has said, as he condemned what he described as “an absurd and futile war”.
Jamie McGoldrick’s unusually direct criticism came in an update citing initial reports from the UN human rights office of the two strikes earlier this week. The first hit a crowded market in Taez province, killing 54 civilians, including eight children, and wounding 32 others, McGoldrick said. The second was in the Red Sea province of Hodeidah and killed 14 people from the same family.
“I remain deeply disturbed by mounting civilian casualties caused by escalated and indiscriminate attacks throughout Yemen,” McGoldrick said. In addition to the casualties from Tuesday’s two air raids, another 41 civilians were killed and 43 wounded over the previous 10 days of fighting, he said.
The Arab coalition intensified its air campaign targeting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels after 19 December, when Saudi air defences intercepted a ballistic missilethe insurgents had fired at the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The Saudis claim to be on the outskirts of the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, which is held by the Houthi rebels.
“These incidents prove the complete disregard for human life that all parties, including the Saudi-led coalition, continue to show in this absurd war that has only resulted in the destruction of the country and the incommensurate suffering of its people,” McGoldrick said on Thursday. Civilians “are being punished as part of a futile military campaign by both sides”, he said.
“I remind all parties to the conflict, including the Saudi-led coalition, of their obligations under international humanitarian law to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure and to always distinguish between civilian and military objects,” he said.
The UN official said the conflict in Yemen had no military solution and could be resolved only through negotiations. The same position has been adopted by the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who has said the resolution of the Yemen conflict is his No 1 priority.
Saudi Arabia, which sees the conflict as part of a wider battle to restrain Iranian aggression across the Middle East, claims the missile fired at Riyadh was provided by Iran. Earlier this month, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, staged a special press conferenceto back up the Saudi claim and assert that provision of the missile was in breach of UN security council resolutions.
The Saudis appear to be trying to capitalise on the political instability that has come about as a result of the death of Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was killed by the Houthis earlier this month as punishment for switching sides and seeking peace with Saudi Arabia.
Last week the Saudis said they had opened the port of Hodeidah to commercial and humanitarian ships, after an international outcry that a blockade imposed on 6 November amounted to starvation as a tactic of war. The UN said the first supplies of fuel had entered the port on 24 December. Yemen imports 90% of its food and all of its fuel and medicine.
At a press conference on Wednesday the Saudis claimed five vessels had entered Hodeidah carrying fuel this week and that coalition forces had given 10 permits to transfer aid to Yemen through land crossings.
The Arab coalition – essentially the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates, backed by the US, the UK and others – intervened in support of Yemen’s internationally recognised government in March 2015 after the Houthis took over Sana’a. But despite the coalition’s vastly superior firepower, the rebels still control the capital and much of the north.
The UN has no up-to-date estimate of the death toll in Yemen, but said in August 2016 that according to medical centres at least 10,000 people had been killed.
It says Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with about 8 million people on the brink of famine, a cholera epidemic that has infected 1 million people, and economic collapse in what was already one of the Arab world’s poorest countries.