Saudi-led coalition vows probe as Yemen attack toll rises to 140

T-Mag Sunday 09/October/2016 18:45 PM
By: Times News Service
Saudi-led coalition vows probe as Yemen attack toll rises to 140

Dubai: The Saudi-led coalition bogged down in a conflict with Yemeni rebels said it will start an "immediate investigation” after more than 140 Yemenis were killed in an attack on a funeral hall in the capital Sanaa.
The investigation team will seek to use US expertise, according to a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. "The results would be announced once the investigation is over.” The coalition’s command "stresses that its forces have clear rules not to target civilian positions,” it said.
Yemeni media controlled by the Houthi rebels posted photos of the destroyed hall and medics removing dead bodies from the scene and blamed the coalition for the strike. One photo showed several people buried under rubble. More than 525 people were wounded in the attack, the United Nations said in a statement, citing initial reports from Yemeni health officials.
The White House announced an immediate review of Washington's support for the 18-month-old military push.
Fury in Sanaa at Saturday's raid was echoed internationally.
A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said any deliberate attack against civilians was utterly unacceptable.
Ban called for "a prompt and impartial investigation of this incident. Those responsible for the attack must be brought to justice", the spokesman said.
Yemen's ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh called on Sunday for an escalation of attacks against Saudi Arabia, demanding "battle readiness at the fronts on the (Saudi) border".
Saleh's remarks reflect the heightened political climate in Sanaa, but it was not clear what concrete effect they might have. Houthi forces regularly fire rockets across the frontier, occasionally killing or wounding Saudi civilians, and bands of Houthi fighters stage border incursions almost daily.
"I call for a swift, transparent and impartial investigation into this incident to ensure accountability,” the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, said in a statement. "I also call on all parties to protect civilians and stop using explosive weapons or conducting aerial bombardments in civilian-populated places in Yemen. Surely enough is enough.”
"This attack took place against the backdrop of a desperately worsening humanitarian situation across Yemen, with four out of every five of Yemen’s 28 million people in real and immediate need of assistance,” O’Brien said in the statement.
"It's shocking to see that a target like this was hit," said a senior official in the Saudi-backed government of President AbdRabbu Mansour Hadi. "It's the latest in a series of attacks by all sides on civilian targets like homes and public gatherings that are turning this into a dirty war."
"If anything positive can come from this, it would be increasing the will for a ceasefire that is needed. But incidents like these before have just fuelled a desire for revenge."
"There will be pressure on the campaign," said Mustafa Alani, a security analyst close to Saudi Arabia's interior ministry. While the coalition followed very careful rules and understood human rights concerns, "there will now be pressure to end the whole operation, or to restrict the operation".
An estimated 10,000 people have been killed in the war and the United Nations blames coalition strikes for 60 percent of some 3,800 civilian deaths since they began in March 2015.
The outcry over civilian casualties has led some lawmakers in the United States and Britain as well as rights activists to push for curbs on arms sales to Riyadh, so far without success.
The coalition denies deliberately targeting civilians and says it goes to great lengths to ensure its raids are precisely targeted, with explosive loads calibrated to limit the risk of causing damage beyond the immediate target area.
The coalition accuses the Houthis, who seized much of the north in a series of military advances since 2014, of placing military targets in civilian areas. The Houthis deny this.
The funeral wake was for the father of the interior minister of northern Yemen's Houthi-run administration, Jalal Al Roweishan, who had died of natural causes on Friday. Yemenis say the Roweishan family is widely respected and has good ties with many groups and tribes across Yemen's political spectrum.
Mokhtar Al Rahabi, a spokesman for Hadi, condemned the attack on his official Facebook page on Saturday.
"Bombing a mourning hall in which there were dozens of civilians is not acceptable, even if leaders of the (Houthi) putschists were present. Our war is a war of morals."
Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a United Arab Emirates (UAE) political scientist, said that if the coalition was found to be responsible for the killings, that should be acknowledged openly and compensation arranged.
He said no country wanted an end to the war more than Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other coalition members, while adding that it was up to the Houthis to respect resolution 2216.
"I think everyone realises this war has gone on way beyond what was originally expected. But the ball is in the Houthis court," he said.