Civilian casualties mount as Saudi-led airstrikes continue in Yemen

By Niles Williamson
April 25, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

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Jet fighters from the Saudi-led coalition carried out at least 10 airstrikes inside Yemen on Friday, three days after a Saudi Arabian military spokesman announced the end of Operation Decisive Storm and the beginning of Operation Restore Hope.

Airstrikes that hit the central city of Taiz on Friday were reportedly targeted at members of the 35th Brigade of the Yemeni Army, a unit that is loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh has been using his influence within the military and amongst the Yemeni Special Forces to back the Houthis’ campaign to oust Hadi.

While backing the Houthis, Saleh, who was ousted from power after mass protests in 2011, has also been seeking an accommodation with Saudi Arabia and the United States in his bid for a return to power. On Friday the former longtime dictator sent out an email message calling for dialogue between Yemen and Saudi Arabia under the auspices of the UN.

The brutal aerial bombardment of the deeply impoverished Arab country has continued despite statements from the Saudi military that it would wind down airstrikes and move towards developing a political settlement with the Houthi militia that have taken control of most of Yemen’s western provinces.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) detailed Friday the devastating toll that the Saudi campaign has had on the Yemeni population. According to conservative UN estimates, at least 551 civilians were killed between March 26, when the airstrikes began, and April 22. Additionally at least 1,185 civilians have been injured, including 172 children.

Behind the backs of the American population, the administration of US President Barack Obama has given its full support to the bloody and illegal war being waged against the Houthis. The campaign has as its aim returning the unpopular puppet government of President Abd Rabbu Monsour Hadi to power.

The Saudi-led airstrikes have so far done little to further the reinstatement of Hadi, with the Houthis maintaining control over most of the territory that they seized control of over the last several weeks. Hadi remains in exile in Saudi Arabia and has little support amongst the various armed militias and military forces currently battling the Houthis.

The United States has played a vital role in facilitating and supporting the slaughter. The US military has been selecting and approving targets for airstrikes and is staffing a joint planning center in Saudi Arabia from which military operations are being directed. President Barack Obama also approved the refueling of fighter jets as they return from their bombing raids.

The US has positioned nine warships off the coast of Yemen in order to enforce a military and economic blockade of the country. The USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier was rushed to the Gulf of Aden this week on the basis of unsubstantiated claims that a convoy of Iranian ships was seeking to deliver missiles and other weapons to the Houthis.

After a tense standoff in which the US indicated that it would consider boarding the vessels if they entered Yemeni waters, the Iranian convoy turned away on Friday and was reported to be sailing northeast towards Oman.

OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville reported that airstrikes in the wake of the official end of Operation Decisive Storm have resulted in the mass civilian casualties. On Wednesday an airstrike on a bridge in the city of Ibb killed 40 civilians. Among the dead were seven children.

An airstrike in Sanaa on Tuesday killed 20 civilians and injured 120 others. That attack also damaged a building containing several UN aid agencies, blowing out windows in the offices of the OHCHR, the UN Development Program and the Department of Safety and Security.

Saudi airstrikes over the last weeks have also struck a refugee camp in the north and a dairy manufacturing plant in the western port city of Hodeida, all resulting in mass civilian casualties. Human Rights Watch accused Saudi Arabia of possible war crimes after it bombed a warehouse facility belonging to the aid organization Oxfam in the northern Houthi stronghold of Sada. The organization had provided the Saudi-led coalition with the coordinates of the facility, which contained material necessary for providing the local population with clean water.

Colville also reported civilian deaths as fighting continued between the Houthi rebels and various local armed groups in the provinces of Abyan, Dhale, Aden and Lahj. “In Abyan Governorate on 21 April, at least 14 civilians were killed and another 14 injured, reportedly due to indiscriminate shooting. We have reports of killings by a sniper of a child in Dhale and four civilians emerging from a mosque in Aden,” he reported.

The UN’s children’s agency, UNICEF, reported that it could confirm that at least 64 children have so far been killed in aerial bombings, but the total number is likely much higher. Children have also been killed in the course of fighting on the ground between opposing armed groups, by unexploded ordinance and land mines, gunshots and artillery shelling.

The World Food Programme (WFP) reported that in one month of airstrikes the number of food insecure people in Yemen has risen by more than one million, from 10.6 million to 12 million. Airstrikes have knocked out key electrical infrastructure, and the US and Saudi blockade has led to a shortage of the fuel needed for cooking and transportation.

WFP spokesperson Elizabeth Brys reported that the organization’s operations have been severely limited by the airstrikes and fighting on the ground. While the organization plans to provide food to 2.5 million people affected by the conflict over the next three months, it has only been able to reach approximately 19,000 people in the last four weeks.


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