UN condemns airstrike that killed 'at least 80' in Yemen prison

A man is rescued after Saudi-led airstrikes targeted a site in the contested city of Hodeida, Yemen. Credit: AP/AL-Masirah TV Channel

A Saudi Arabia-led airstrike on a prison in Yemen has left at least 80 people dead, the country's Houthi rebels have said, while a separate attack reportedly killed three children playing on a football field.

The prison airstrike happened when the facility, which is said to have been used as a detention centre for migrant workers, was struck in Saada, a stronghold of the rebel Houthi movement, on Friday.

“Migrants seeking better lives for themselves and their families, Yemeni civilians injured by the dozens, is a picture we never hoped to wake up to in Yemen,” said Gillian Moyes, Save the Children’s director, in the country.

Bystanders were left desperately shifting through rubble with their bare hands to rescue those trapped, with many people remaining unaccounted for and dozens injured.

Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of Arab states in a brutal civil war against the Houthi rebels since 2015, which has killed tens of thousands of civilians and led to widespread famine.

The conflict escalated in 2015 when the Iran-backed Houthi rebel movement took control of large swathes of the country, and a Saudi-led coalition launched an operation to restore President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi's rule.

Médecins Sans Frontières estimated that around 200 people were injured as a result of Friday's airstrike.

Excavator removing rubble after the Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Saada. Credit: AP

It came after nights of bombing raids that followed a deadly Houthi attack on the UAE, a Saudi ally that supports local militias on the ground in Yemen.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres called Houthi attacks on the UAE a “serious mistake,” saying they were “unacceptable.” As for Friday’s airstrike, he told a press conference that “any bombardments that target civilians ... (are) of course also unacceptable.”

“What we need is to stop this vicious circle in which things get escalating one after the other,” Mr Guterres said.

“What we need is to have, as we have been proposing from long ago, a cease-fire together with the opening of harbor and airports, and then the beginning of a serious dialogue among the parties.”

Earlier on Friday, a Saudi airstrike in the port city of Hodeida hit a telecommunication center, helping to effectively shut down the country’s internet.

The Norwegian Refugee Council decried the strike as “a blatant attack on civilian infrastructure that will also impact our aid delivery.”

Save the Children said the Hodeida strike killed at least three children playing on a football field.

The Saudi-led coalition acknowledged carrying out “accurate airstrikes to destroy the capabilities of the militia” around Hodeida’s port.

A man is rescued after Saudi-led airstrikes targeted a site in the contested city of Hodeida. Credit: AP

They say the city is a hub for piracy and Iranian arms smuggling to back the Houthis.

The civil war has turned into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with international criticism of Saudi airstrikes that have killed hundreds of civilians and targeted the country’s infrastructure.

The Houthis, meanwhile, have used child soldiers and indiscriminately laid landmines across Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country.

Some 130,000 people, including more than 13,000 civilians, have been killed in targeted attacks, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Project.

According to a US statement, secretary of state Antony Blinken spoke with Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and condemned Monday’s Houthi attacks on the kingdom and the UAE.

Blinken reiterated the US' commitment to help Gulf Arab partners improve defense capabilities against threats from Yemen and elsewhere in the region and “underscored the importance of mitigating civilian harm.”