Saudi-Led Coalition Blames Yemeni Party for Funeral Bombing
People inspect the aftermath of a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. (Photo: AP)
Cairo: A Saudi-led coalition on Saturday blamed "wrong information" for the bombing last weekend of a packed funeral hall in the Yemeni capital Sanaa that killed at least 140 people and wounded some 600.
The coalition's Joint Incidents Assessment Team, or JIAT, said a "party" affiliated to Yemen's General Chief of Staff headquarters had passed intelligence that the hall was filled with leaders of Shiite Houthi rebels, whom the coalition has been targeting since March 2015 when it intervened in Yemen's civil war in support of the internationally recognized government.
The unidentified party insisted the site was "a legitimate military target," the English-language statement said. The Air Operation Center in Yemen, it added, directed a "close air support mission" to target the site without approval from the coalition's command.
The investigation team called on the coalition to immediately review the rules of engagement and recommended that compensation be offered to the victims' families.
"JIAT has found that because of non-compliance with Coalition rules of engagement and procedures, and the issuing of incorrect information, a Coalition aircraft wrongly targeted the location, resulting in civilian deaths and injuries," it said.
This is the first time the coalition has acknowledged it was behind the bombing, after an initial denial. The Yemeni government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has yet to publicly comment on the October 8 bombing.
Yemen's chief of staff is Maj. Gen. Mohammed Ali al-Maqdishi, a close ally of the powerful army general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, now serving as vice president. Al-Ahmar is also a top ally of Yemen's Muslim Brotherhood, whose followers are fighting the Houthis alongside government troops.
The US-backed coalition, which accuses Houthis of being Iranian proxies, has come under heavy international pressure to investigate the bombing. Human Rights Watch said in a report Thursday that the bombing constitutes an apparent war crime and said remnants of a US-made bomb were found at the site of the strike.
Along with arms, the United States provides the coalition with logistical support and mid-air refueling of its warplanes. The White House has said it will immediately review its assistance to the Saudi-led coalition, explaining that such assistance was not a "blank check."
The bombing of the funeral hall was not the first by the Saudi-led coalition to lead to civilian casualties. Over the past year, busy markets, weddings, schools, and hospitals have been bombed by the Saudi-led coalition, resulting in hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries.
The deadly airstrikes on the funeral triggered a wave of counter-attacks against both U.S. and Saudi targets.
A U.S. Navy destroyer deployed in international waters in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen came under attack twice in recent days from areas under Houthi control. In response, the U.S. destroyed three radar installations in Houthi-controlled ports near the Bab al-Mandab strait on Thursday, in the first direct U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen.
The Houthis denied firing at the destroyer and accused the U.S. of using the attack as a justification to become directly involved in the war against the militias.
Houthis and allied army units loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh have also fired rockets and missiles targeting Saudi military installations and air bases across the Yemen-Saudi border.
On the diplomatic and political level, the bombing intensified pressure on the Saudi-led coalition. The coalition had forced the closure of Sanaa international airport for the past two months, after the collapse of peace talks between rival parties in Kuwait.
However, a Houthi official said Saturday that the coalition has agreed to open the airport to allow a team of peace negotiators sent by Houthis and allies from Saleh's onetime ruling party to return to the country. The negotiators have been stuck for in Oman for two months after leaving Kuwait.
Meanwhile, more than 100 people who were injured in the funeral hall bombing have been allowed medical evacuation to seek treatment outside of Yemen, a government official said.
Both the Houthi and government officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
The Saudi-led coalition has imposed a blockade on Yemen since the start of the war.
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