Calls grew louder for an investigation into airstrikes in Yemen that killed at least 29 children, as the United Nations and Western officials weighed their response to the attack by a Saudi-led military coalition.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urged an independent and prompt investigation into the Thursday attack, which hit a market and a school bus in the northern Yemen province of Saada. And he asked for renewed focus on talks, set for September in Geneva, to end Yemen’s more than three-year-old conflict.
The U.N. Security Council also called Friday for a transparent and independent examination of the incident, according to an Associated Press report.
Alistair Burt, the U.K.’s minister of state for the Middle East and North Africa, tweeted his deep concern about the attack and urged a transparent investigation.
Deeply concerned by reports of yesterday’s attack in Sa’ada, Yemen, resulting in tragic deaths of so many children. Transparent investigation required. UK calls on all parties to prevent civilian casualties and to cooperate with UN to reach a lasting political solution in Yemen.
The U.K., he said, “calls on all parties to prevent civilian casualties and to cooperate with [the] U.N. to reach a lasting political solution in Yemen.”
The Saada attack was one of the deadliest single incidents for children during Yemen’s war and has put Saudi Arabia and its allies, which include the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in an uncomfortable spotlight. Local health authorities put the total death toll at 50, with 77 wounded.
The Saudi-led coalition, which is fighting in Yemen to oust the Iran-supported Houthi rebels who control the capital, said the strikes had been referred for investigation to its Joint Incidents Assessment Team, according to the official Saudi Press Agency. The Saudi coalition created and oversees that body, and its conclusions aren’t considered independent.
Some 6,592 Yemeni civilians have been killed since the war began, mostly by airstrikes, according to a statement Friday from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Yemen has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with more than three-quarters of the population in need of some kind of aid, according to the U.N.
The growing civilian toll in Yemen has led to increased criticism abroad—including from within the U.S., which backs the Saudi coalition with logistical and intelligence support. The U.K. supplies weapons to the coalition. Several members of Congress have raised concern about new weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in light of civilian deaths caused by airstrikes.
The killing of dozens of children under age 15 has added indignation to the misery.
“This is horrible and completely unacceptable,” Lise Grande, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, said in a statement Friday. “We feel deeply for the families of the victims. Their loss is unimaginable.”
A statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency said the coalition would “exert all efforts to preserve civilians” as it always has, citing an unnamed senior coalition official.
The coalition had earlier described the strikes as attempts to target Houthi militants responsible for launching a ballistic missile at southern Saudi Arabia on Wednesday evening. Saudi forces intercepted the missile near the city of Jizan, but falling debris killed one person and wounded 11 more.
The Houthis fired two more missiles at Jizan that Saudi Arabia intercepted on Friday, a coalition spokesman said, according to the SPA