Saudi Arabia is facing an international outcry after at least 29 children were among dozens of civilians killed by a US-backed Saudi-led coalition airstrike that hit a bus in Yemen’s Houthi rebel-held north.
The attack was the latest coalition bombing raid to hit civilians; previous airstrikes have hit markets, schools and hospitals. Humanitarian workers on the ground said the latest incident must shake the world’s conscience about atrocities committed continuing during Yemen’s deadlocked three-year war.
Save the Children, quoting its staff on the ground, said the children were on a bus heading back to school from a picnic at the time of the attack when the driver stopped to get a drink at the market in Dahyan, in Sa’ada governorate.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), one of the few humanitarian institutions helping civilians in war-torn Yemen, said its team at an ICRC-supported hospital in Sa’ada had received the bodies of 29 children, all under 15 years old. It also received 48 wounded people, including 30 children, it said.
“Under international humanitarian law, civilians must be protected during conflict,” the ICRC tweeted.
Abdul-Ghani Sareeh, from the Sa’ada health department, told Reuters the attack had killed 43 people and wounded 63.
The attack was condemned by the UN secretary general, António Guterres, who called for “an independent and prompt investigation”.
“The secretary-general emphasises that all parties must take constant care to spare civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of military operations,” said a spokesman for Guterres.
The Houthis’ Al-Masirah TV broadcast unverified footage of dead and bloodied children, many still carrying their blue Unicef rucksacks, being transferred to a hospital.
In a statement carried by the official Saudi press agency, the Saudi-led coalition called the strike a “legitimate military action” targeting elements responsible for a Houthi missile attack on the Saudi city of Jizan on Wednesday. “[The airstrikes] conformed to international and humanitarian laws,” the statement said. It accused the Iran-aligned Houthis of using children as human shields.