Saudis Vow Yemen Probe After More Than 100 Killed in Attack

  • More than 600 people wounded in airstrike, ministry says
  • Key rebel ally calls for revenge attacks against Saudis

The Saudi-led coalition fighting rebels in Yemen said it will start an “immediate investigation” after more than 100 people were killed in an attack on a funeral hall in the capital, Sana’a, that triggered protests and calls for retaliation against the oil-rich kingdom.

The investigation team will seek to use U.S. 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.

Yemenis and rescue teams gather at the site of the airstrikes on Oct. 8.

Photographer: Mohammed Huwais/AFP via Getty Images

Yemeni media controlled by the Shiite 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.

The Houthi-controlled Health Ministry in Sana’a said that 115 people were killed and 610 wounded in the attack, about half of whom are in a critical condition and need medical treatment outside Yemen. The United Nations earlier gave a higher death toll of more than 140, citing initial reports from local officials.

‘Enough is Enough’

“I call for a swift, transparent and impartial investigation into this incident to ensure accountability,” Stephen O’Brien, the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, 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.”

Saudi Arabia, the champion of Sunni Islam in the Middle East, assembled a military coalition in March of last year to help restore the rule of Yemeni President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi. The campaign began with airstrikes, followed by the deployment of troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Long a strategic ally of the U.S. in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has drawn international condemnation over the Yemen war. It faced bipartisan criticism in Congress for using American weapons in Yemen, though the Senate blocked a measure to prevent a $1.15 billion arms sale last month.

While the Houthis and their allies have lost control of southern Yemen after 18 months of bombardment, they still hold Sana’a and much of the north, and have been launching regular attacks on Saudi Arabia’s southern borders.

Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key backer of the Houthis who commands the support of sections of Yemen’s army, demanded reprisals against targets inside Saudi Arabia. It’s time to call on soldiers and militia fighters “to go to the battlegrounds to take revenge for our victims,” he said.

Abdulkader Hilal, the mayor of Sana’a and a leader in Saleh’s party, was among those who died in the strike, local media reported. Supporters of Saleh and the Houthis took to the capital’s streets to protest the killings.

About 3,799 civilians were killed in the Yemen conflict between March 2015 and Aug. 23, 2016, according to a recent UN report.

The latest 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,” the UN’s O’Brien said.

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