Despite Saudi Arabia’s claims to have halted its air offensive over Yemen, Saudi bombing runs have killed dozens of civilians in recent days, United Nations officials said Friday.
“We have recorded a number of airstrikes that have hit military and civilian positions in Sanaa, Ibb, Hajja and Taiz,” Rupert Coleville, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters. He said one incident on Wednesday in Ibb governorate killed 40 civilians, including seven children, when Saudi planes bombed a bridge then returned and bombed the bridge a second time.
“Civilians gathering to help those injured by the first airstrikes were reportedly hit by the second,” Colville said.
Similarly, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that airstrikes on Thursday hit areas in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, as well as Taiz, Aden, Sadaa and Al Dhale governorates. The airport in Aden was also bombed, the agency said.
In recent weeks, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, other U.N. officials and international human rights groups have warned that targeting of civilians not taking part in hostilities may amount to war crimes.
“It is imperative that all parties to the conflict protect civilians from the effects of the fighting in compliance with international humanitarian law,” said Johannes van der Klaauw, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.
Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that it was ending its bombing campaign after 26 days. But U.N. officials said civilians have been killed in bombing raids since, and on Friday, Amnesty International called for an urgent investigation in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and the injury of thousands during “the relentless Saudi Arabia-led campaign of airstrikes across Yemen.”
Amnesty said it had documented eight strikes in five densely populated areas – Sadah, Sanaa, Hodeidah, Hajjah and Ibb – and said that “several of these strikes raise concerns about compliance” with international law.
In Washington, Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said the United States continues to refuel Saudi aircraft. “We are still flying a tanker a day to be available if needed,” he said. “It's like having a gas station in the sky.”
Col. Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, which overseas U.S. military operations in the Middle East, said Saudi Arabia had never promised to stop all bombing.
U.N. officials complained that a Saudi-led naval blockade of Yemen’s ports continues to hinder the distribution of life-saving drugs and medical supplies as well as food, fuel and other essentials.
“Humanitarian pauses are urgently needed to safely bring aid workers and supplies into the country and for aid to reach millions of people in need,” Klaauw said Thursday, repeating an appeal he first made April 10.
The humanitarian concerns were aired during a meeting Friday in Geneva between the Saudi ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva and senior officials from U.N. agencies, officials familiar with the meeting told McClatchy.
Colville said the number of civilians killed between March 26 and April 22 “is now estimated to be 551, including 31 women and at least 115 children. Another 1,185 civilians have been injured, including 35 women and 67 children.” Klaauw said more than 150,000 people have been forced from their homes.
Violence between forces loyal to exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is backed by Saudi Arabia, and popular committees affiliated with the Houthi rebels, who are supported by Iran, also is claiming civilian victims, Colville said.
U.N. officials told McClatchy that while there was no formal complaint to the Saudis concerning the airstrikes, they have brought the matter up to the Saudi government informally.
The U.N. officials said Saudi Arabia has pledged to fund the total amount of the $274 million the U.N. has said it needs to provide humanitarian assistance in Yemen.
James Rosen contributed to this report from Washington.