RIYADH – Saudi Arabia endured its worst civilian death toll in cross border shelling from Yemen rebel coalition it directs started an investigation on a hospital into a fatal strike.
A rocket killed seven civilians in Najran city in the greatest reported amount of non-combattant victims in the kingdom’s south since the Arab coalition intervened in Yemen 17 months past.
“It killed four citizens and three residents,” the civil defence spokesman in Najran city said of the rocket strike, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
The strike came after the coalition started an investigation Tuesday following international condemnation of an air raid on Monday that Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said killed 14 people at a hospital it supports.
Another 24 people were wounded in the strike that hit at the hospital on Monday held northern state of Hajja, the Paris-based aid agency said.
An MSF staffer was among the dead, it said.
The hospital strike was the latest in a string coalition raids that supposedly reach on civilian facilities — including a school on Saturday where 10 children were killed.
The coalition started its bombing campaign last year backed Shiite Huthi rebels captured large parts of Yemen, like the capital Sanaa.
It stepped up air strikes after UN mediated peace talks between the rebels and the worldwide backed authorities of Yemen were frozen.
The spokesman of the coalition accused of using the three months of discussions to rearm the Huthis.
– ‘Deceiving individuals’ –
“They were deceiving individuals by this discussion, to reorganise their force, re-furnishing their forces and getting back to fighting,” Brigadier General Ahmed Assiri said.
He said the coalition would do “whatever it takes” to restore security in Yemen.
MSF said Monday’s strike was the fourth on among its facilities within just a year.
At the time of the strike, the hospital was “full of patients recuperating from operation, in pregnancy, newborns and kids in pediatrics”, it said.
MSF said the hospital’s GPS co-ordinates “were repeatedly shared with all parties to the battle, for instance, Saudi-led coalition, and its place was well-known”.
Teresa Sancristoval of MSF’s crisis unit in Yemen said: “What we should see is evidence of purpose and a commitment that there will be no more air strikes on medical facilities, staff, and patients.”
An US State Department spokeswoman said: “Strikes on humanitarian facilities, including hospitals, are especially concerning.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “profoundly upset” by the intensification of air raids in Yemen.
“Hospitals and medical staff are expressly protected under international humanitarian law and any assault directed against them, or against any civilian individuals or infrastructure, is a serious breach of international humanitarian law,” Ban said.
Amnesty International said the bombardment “seems to function as the latest in a chain of unlawful strikes targeting hospitals, emphasizing an alarming pattern of disregard for civilian life”.
– Mounting criticism –
A Joint Events Appraisal Team (JIAT), composed of members of the coalition, said it “has desperately started an impartial investigation” into the strike and guaranteed to declare its findings.
The JIAT was set up following mounting criticism of the civilian death toll in the bombing effort.
Before this month, it admitted “shortcomings” in two of eight cases it inquired of strikes on civilian targets in Yemen.
In one case, the team held the coalition in charge of reaching on an MSF-run hospital but accused of having used the facility the rebels.
The team can also be investigating the strikes of Saturday in the rebels’ northern stronghold of Saada, which MSF said reach at a school but the coalition promised targeted a rebel training camp.
A rebel council in Sanaa condemned the hospital strike and called on the UN to form an “independent committee to inquire” coalition “offenses”.
Saada, Abs and places hit surrounding Sanaa, residents and military sources said.
The coalition restarted raids on Sanaa on August 9, nearly three days after the discussions were frozen, with one strike allegedly striking a food factory, killing 14 people.
That forced the closing of Sanaa airport, but its manager said three flights — taking World Food Programme (WFP) and Red Cross workers in addition to humanitarian aid — landed on Tuesday.
The Sanaa-based civil aviation authority Tuesday said passenger flights to the airport stayed frozen.
The UN says more than 6,500 people, mainly civilians, have been killed since last March and more than 80 percent of the public wants humanitarian aid.