The death toll from a Saudi-led coalition airstrike that hit a prison run by Yemen’s Houthi rebels has risen to at least 82 detainees, the rebels and an aid group said on Saturday. Internet access in the poorest country in the Arab world remained largely low.
The airstrike in the northern province of Saada on Friday was part of an intense air and ground offensive that marked an escalation in Yemen’s years-long civil war. The conflict pits the internationally recognized government, aided by the Saudi-led coalition, against the Iranian-backed rebels.
Ahmed Mahat, director of Médecins Sans Frontières, a charity mission in Yemen, told The Associated Press that they counted at least 82 dead and more than 265 wounded in the airstrike.
The Houthi media office said rescuers were still searching for survivors and bodies in the rubble of the prison on the border with Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis used the prison complex to hold detained immigrants, mostly Africans, who were trying to cross the war-torn country into Saudi Arabia, according to the humanitarian organization Save the Children.
But Mahat, of Doctors Without Borders, said the airstrike hit a different part of the facility that houses other types of detainees. “Migrants there are safe,” he said.
The airstrike, one of the deadliest of the war, drew renewed criticism of the coalition from the United Nations and international aid and rights groups.
Saudi coalition spokesman Brig. General Turki al-Malki alleged that the Houthis had not informed the UN or the International Committee of the Red Cross that the site needed protection from air strikes. He claimed that the Houthis’ failure to do so represented the militia’s “usual misleading approach” to the conflict.
The Saada attack followed another Saudi-led coalition airstrike on Friday in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, which hit a telecommunications hub key to Yemen’s internet connection. Internet access has been “largely down for more than 24 hours” in the country, advocacy group NetBlocks.org said on Saturday.
Human rights groups have previously documented that the Houthis use detained civilians as human shields, placing them in detention centers next to military barracks under constant threat of airstrikes.
Friday’s airstrikes in Saada and Hodeida have renewed criticism of the coalition from the United Nations and international aid and rights groups.
Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties, killing thousands of civilians. Meanwhile, the Houthis have used child soldiers and placed landmines indiscriminately throughout the country. They also launched cross-border ballistic missile and explosive-laden drone attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The escalation was the most intense since 2018 in the fight over the Red Sea port of Hodeida and comes after a year of US and UN efforts that failed to bring the two sides to the negotiating table.
The conflict in the Arab world’s poorest country began in 2014, when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen, forcing the government to flee south and then into exile in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi-led coalition, backed at the time by the US, went to war months later to try to restore the ruling government.
Since then, the conflict has escalated into a regional proxy war that has killed tens of thousands of civilians and combatants. The war also created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions of people suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism