'We didn't know': Saudi-led coalition blames Houthis for prison airstrike that killed scores of detainees

'We didn't know': Saudi-led coalition blames Houthis for prison airstrike that killed scores of detainees
A deadly Saudi-led coalition airstrike on a prison facility that killed more than 100 detainees was blamed on the Houthi rebels.
3 min read
02 September, 2019
More than 100 opponents of the rebels were imprisoned at the site [Getty]
The Saudi-led military coalition fighting Yemen's Houthi rebels claimed it was unaware that prisoners were being held at a facility it targeted with deadly airstrikes on Sunday, after global condemnation.

"The coalition was never informed... about the location," spokesman Turki al-Maliki told a press conference, a day after the strike which the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it feared had left some 130 detainees dead.

"The Houthis bear full responsibility for making this a location for Yemeni citizens who have been forcibly disappeared," he added. 

Maliki reiterated the coalition's stance that the site in the city of Dhamar was used by the rebels to store drones and air defence systems. 

"The (facility) was not on the 'no strike list' of sites in the city of Dhamar," he said. "Some reports have quoted the ICRC as saying it has gone to the site a number of times. The coalition has never been informed... about the location.”

The Saudi-led military coalition had earlier said it launched airstrikes against a Houthi military target that "stores drones and missiles".

However, the Houthi television channel Al-Masirah said that "dozens were killed and injured" in seven airstrikes that hit a building the rebels used as a prison.

The ICRC, which rushed to the scene with medical teams and body bags, said that every detainee in the building was killed or injured when the multi-storey facility crumbled, and that the toll could rise as high as 130.

"The facility held around 170 detainees. Forty of those detainees were being treated for injuries; the rest are presumed killed, though no toll has been confirmed," it said in a statement.

The ICRC said it had visited the detention centre in the past as part of its regular work as a neutral inspector in war zones.

"Witnessing this massive damage, seeing the bodies lying among the rubble was a real shock. Anger and sadness were natural reactions," Franz Rauchenstein, its head of delegation for Yemen, said in a statement.

"People who are not taking active part in combat should not die in such a way," he said after travelling to the attack site.

The UN's humanitarian coordinator in Yemen has called Sunday's air strike "horrific" and said aid groups had been forced to divert critical medical supplies, intended for treating a cholera outbreak, to Dhamar hospitals.

"We have no choice," Lise Grande said. "The scale of the casualties is staggering."

The Saudi-led military coalition intervened in support of the Yemeni government in 2015 after the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa and closed in on the government's temporary base of Aden.

Since then, the conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, many of them civilians, relief agencies say.

The conflict has triggered what the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with much of the country on the brink of famine.

Both sides in Yemen's conflict stand accused of actions that could amount to war crimes.

The coalition has been blacklisted by the UN for the killing of children, while Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse the Houthis of using civilians as human shields in densely populated areas. 

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