Yemen Prison Airstrike Kills 82 01/22 09:32
The death toll from a Saudi-led coalition airstrike that hit a prison run by
Yemen's Houthi rebels climbed to at least 82 detainees, the rebels and an aid
group said Saturday.
CAIRO (AP) -- The death toll from a Saudi-led coalition airstrike that hit a
prison run by Yemen's Houthi rebels climbed to at least 82 detainees, the
rebels and an aid group said Saturday.
Internet access in the Arab world's poorest country meanwhile remained
largely down as the coalition continued airstrikes on the capital of Sanaa and
The airstrike in northern Saada province Friday was part of an intense air
and ground offensive that marked an escalation in Yemen's yearslong civil war.
The conflict pits the internationally recognized government, aided by the
Saudi-led coalition, against the Iranian-backed rebels.
The escalation comes after the Houthis claimed a drone and missile attack
that struck inside the United Arab Emirates' capital earlier in the week. It
also comes as government forces, aided by UAE-backed troops and airstrikes from
the coalition, have reclaimed the entire province of Shabwa from the Houthis
and pressured them in the central province of Marib. Houthis there have for a
year attempted to take control of its provincial capital.
Ahmed Mahat, head of Doctors Without Borders, a charity mission in Yemen,
told The Associated Press they counted at least 82 dead and more than 265
wounded in the airstrike.
The Houthis' media office said rescuers were still searching for survivors
and bodies in the rubble of the prison site in the province of Saada on the
border with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Turki al-Malki alleged the Houthis
hadn't reported the site as needing protection from airstrikes to the U.N. or
the International Committee of the Red Cross. He claimed the Houthis' failure
to do so represented the militia's "usual deceptive approach" in the conflict.
The Houthis used the prison complex to hold detained migrants, mostly
Africans attempting to cross through the war-torn country into Saudi Arabia,
according to the humanitarian organization Save the Children.
But Mahat, of Doctors Without Borders, said the airstrike hit a different
part of the facility housing other types of detainees. "The migrants there are
safe," he said.
Al-Malki said reports that the coalition targeted the prison were inaccurate
and that the coalition would correspond "facts and details" to the U.N. and the
ICRC, according to Saudi state-run television.
The Saada attack followed another Saudi-led coalition airstrike Friday at
the Red Sea port city of Hodeida hit a telecommunications center key to Yemen's
connection to the internet. Access to the internet has remained "largely down
for more than 24 hours" in the country, advocacy group NetBlocks said Saturday.
The Saada air attack, one of the deadliest of the war, was not the first to
hit a Houthi-run prison. In September 2019, an airstrike hit a detention center
the southwestern Dhamar province, killing more than 100 people and wounding
Rights groups have previously documented that the Houthis use civilian
detainees as human shields by placing them in detention centers next to
military barracks under constant threat of airstrikes.
Friday's airstrikes in Saada and Hodeida have renewed criticism of the
coalition from the United Nations and international aid and rights groups.
Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and wedding
parties, killing thousands of civilians. The Houthis meanwhile have used child
soldiers and indiscriminately laid land mines across the country. They also
launched cross-border attacks using ballistic missiles and explosives-laden
drones on Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The coalition continued its airstrikes on Sanaa and elsewhere Saturday,
targeting a Houthi-held military facility and an abandoned headquarters of
Yemeni state TV in the capital. The coalition said airstrikes also targeted the
Houthis in the contested Harib district in Marib.
The UAE-backed Giants Brigades said they shot down three drones carrying
explosives launched by the Houthis on government-held areas in Marib and Shabwa
The rebels, meanwhile, held a funeral procession in Sanaa for a senior
military official killed along with family members in a coalition airstrike
last week. Hundreds of Houthi supporters attended the military funeral of Gen.
Abdalla Kassem al-Junaid, who headed the Air Academy, according to an
Associated Press video journalist.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken urged the warring parties to end the
escalation of fighting and attacks across Yemen. "We urge all parties to commit
to a peaceful, diplomatic solution to ending the conflict. The Yemeni people
deserve to live in peace and determine their own future," he wrote on Twitter.
The latest escalation comes almost a year after President Joe Biden's
administration announced an end to U.S. support for the coalition and removed
the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group as part of American efforts
to end the grinding war.
The Houthi-claimed attack on the UAE on Monday prompted Biden to say that
his administration would consider restoring the status of the Iranian-backed
rebels as terrorists.
"Urgent de-escalation, plus steps to mitigate Yemen's humanitarian and
economic crises are top U.S. priorities," U.S. special envoy Tim Lenderking
said in a tweet Saturday after meeting Saudi and Yemeni officials in Riyadh. He
then headed to the UAE for talks with Emirati officials, UAE official media
The latest escalation of fighting was the most intense since the 2018 battle
for Hodeida and comes after a year of U.S. and U.N. diplomatic efforts failed
to bring the two sides to the negotiating table.
The rebels have repeatedly pushed back against U.N. and U.S. calls to halt
the offensive on oil-rich Marib province. The Houthis have been trying for a
year to take Marib to complete their control of the northern half of Yemen.
That would likely give them an upper hand in any future negotiations.
"The coalition has pulled the stops out to prevent a collapse in Marib and
to shift the conflict towards a military equilibrium," said Peter Salisbury,
Yemen expert at the International Crisis Group.
The conflict in the Arab world's poorest country began in 2014, when the
Houthis took Sanaa and much of northern Yemen, forcing the government to flee
to the south, then into exile in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi-led coalition, backed
at the time by the U.S., entered the war months later to try to restore the
government to power.
The conflict has since become a regional proxy war that has killed tens of
thousands of civilians and fighters. The war also created the world's worst
humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care
shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.