Officials: Saudi-led airstrikes hit Yemen funeral home; 155 dead
(CNN) – At least 155 people were killed in airstrikes that hit a funeral home in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, two health ministry officials said Saturday.
Local authorities blamed the attack on a Saudi-led coalition battling rebels in the country, but the coalition has denied responsibility.
“The Coalition is aware of such reports and is certain that it is possible that other causes of bombing is to be considered,” coalition spokesman Maj. Gen. Ahmed Asiri was quoted as saying by Arab News. He also said that coalition forces have in the past avoided civilian gatherings.
Witnesses reported multiple civilian casualties in the funeral hall, where hundreds had gathered to mourn the death of rebel-appointed Interior Minister Jalal al Rowaishan’s father.
Ambulances rushed to the scene to care for the wounded. At least 20 people lost limbs, according to medical staff at the German Hospital in Sanaa.
Robert Mardini, regional director for the International Committee of the Red Cross, condemned what he called an “outrageous loss of civilian life.”
“Civilians in Yemen have already paid far too heavy a price these past 18 months,” he said in a statement.
The Saudi-led coalition, involving several Arab countries, began a military campaign in Yemen in March 2015 aimed at preventing Houthi rebels allied to Iran and forces loyal to Yemen’s deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh from taking power.
Earlier that year, the Houthis — a minority Shia group from the north of the country — drove out the US-backed government, led by President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and took over Sanaa.
The crisis quickly escalated into a multi-sided war, which allowed al Qaeda and ISIS — other enemies of the Houthis — to grow stronger amid the chaos.
While the Houthis are backed by Iran, the coalition is supported by the United States.
The conflict has killed an estimated 10,000 people and left millions in need of aid, according to the United Nations.
Since peace talks in Kuwait failed in August, the coalition has intensified airstrikes, despite vocal criticism from rights groups that the bombardments have been indiscriminate and could constitute war crimes. The attacks have often hit civilian targets with devastating results.
The US has come under increasing pressure to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia.
In a statement issued late Saturday, US National Security Council Spokesman Ned Price said the White House was “deeply disturbed” by reports of the deadly strike.
“US security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check,” he said. “Even as we assist Saudi Arabia regarding the defense of their territorial integrity, we have and will continue to express our serious concerns about the conflict in Yemen and how it has been waged.”
Price added that the US would review its “already significantly reduced support” for the coalition.
The US Senate last month rejected a bipartisan proposal to block a pending $1.15 billion United States arms sale to Riyadh.
Critics of the military deal, which was approved by the Obama administration, complained it could further drag the US into the war in Yemen and contribute to the worsening humanitarian crisis there.
Civilian casualties are only part of the crisis. Yemen’s UNICEF office has reported that nearly 10,000 children under age 5 died from preventable diseases there during the last year.
Some 1.5 million children are currently malnourished in Yemen, of which 370,000 suffer from severe acute malnutrition, according to the charity.
Yemen’s economic infrastructure has also been ravaged by war.
At least 430 factories and companies were destroyed by coalition airstrikes since the start of the conflict, according to Ahmed Bahri, political chief of the Sanaa based Haq Party.