Yemen’s Shiite rebels have backed a UN call for a probe into a Saudi-led coalition air strike that killed dozens, including children.
Senior Yemeni rebel leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi said on Twitter that the rebels – known as Houthis – welcome the call and are willing to co-operate in an investigation of the strike in Saada province that hit a bus carrying civilians, many of them school children, in a busy market in the Dahyan district.
In a statement after Thursday’s air strike, UN chief Antonio Guterres urged Yemen’s warring parties to take “constant care to spare civilians” during military operations and also called for an “independent and prompt investigation”.
The United Nations said an exact death toll has yet to be confirmed but initial reports point to more than 60 casualties, with dozens severely wounded. The rebel-run Al Masirah TV reported at least 51 killed and 79 wounded in the air strike, citing the Yemeni Health Ministry in the capital, Sanaa, which is under rebel control.
It also said three children have gone missing since the air strike.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said its team received the bodies of 29 children, all under 15 years old, and treated 48 wounded, 30 of them children.
Following the strike, Al Masirah broadcast horrific images of lifeless bodies of children, covered in blood, and others who appeared severely wounded, lying on hospital stretchers crying and screaming in pain. The authenticity of the footage could not be independently verified.
On Friday, Ahmed al-Hamoud, who was travelling from Saada to Sanaa, said a sombre mood prevailed over the province and that coalition planes could be seen flying over it.
The US State Department called on the Saudi-led coalition “to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “We take all credible accounts of civilian casualties very seriously.”
Also, the UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, who has been pushing for peace efforts in the war-torn country, said he was “deeply shocked by the appalling tragedy that claimed so many innocent lives”.
Still, he called on the warring parties to “engage constructively” in the first round of consultations scheduled for September 6 in Geneva. The United Nations children’s agency called the attack in Saada “unconscionable” and a “low point in the country’s brutal war”.
The Saudi-led coalition, which has been at war with the Houthis for more than three years, said the attack on Saada was in response to a missile fired by the rebels into the kingdom’s south a day earlier.
The coalition said it had intercepted and destroyed the missile but its fragments killed one person and wounded 11 others in Saudi’s southwestern border region of Jizan.