Arab coalition says to probe Yemen funeral carnage

The attack could further sour US-Saudi ties already strained over the coalition`s military intervention.  

AFP| Updated: Oct 10, 2016, 08:47 AM IST
Arab coalition says to probe Yemen funeral carnage
Medics carry the body of a victim of a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen, on October 8, 2016.

Sanaa: The Saudi-led coalition fighting rebels in Yemen said on Sunday it will investigate an air raid that killed more than 140 people at a funeral, after the US said it was reviewing support for the alliance.

The Iran-backed Huthi rebels blamed the coalition for Saturday`s attack, one of the deadliest since the alliance launched a military campaign against the Shiite insurgents in March 2015.

The attack could further sour US-Saudi ties already strained over the coalition`s military intervention, which is suspected of causing almost half of the more than 4,000 civilian deaths in Yemen`s conflict.

It also risks embarrassing Washington, which has vehemently criticised Moscow over the heavy civilian death toll in Aleppo from Russian air raids in support of Syria`s regime.

After initially denying any responsibility, the coalition said Sunday it was ready to launch a probe into the "regrettable and painful" strike, which the UN said also wounded more than 525 people.

"The coalition will immediately investigate this case along with... experts from the United States who participated in previous investigations," it said.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon demanded a "prompt and impartial" probe.

"Those responsible for the attack must be brought to justice," he said.

Riyadh`s key ally Washington said it had launched an "immediate review" of support to the Arab coalition.

"US security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank cheque," said White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price, calling for an "immediate" ceasefire.

US Secretary of State John Kerry also spoke with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and foreign minister Adel al Jubeir on the phone about the attack and expressed "deep concern", Kerry`s office said in a statement Sunday.

"The Secretary also reiterated the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities, and the Deputy Crown Prince stated his desire to institute a renewable 72-hour cessation as soon as possible, provided the Huthis will agree," the statement said.

The Huthis accused the coalition of a "massacre", saying its planes hit a gathering of hundreds mourning the death of the father of rebel interior minister Jalal al-Rowaishan.

They did not say if Rowaishan was in the building at the time, nor did they indicate if other senior figures were attending the funeral.

But Sanaa mayor Abdel Qader Hilal was among those killed, said the rebels` Almasirah television.

"The ceiling of the hall fell on us following one strike," survivor Radhwan al-Fizai said from his hospital bed. "A second missile followed and I lost consciousness."

Rebel-allied former president Ali Abdullah Saleh called for escalating the fight against "backward" Saudi Arabia along its borders "to take revenge." Thousands of angry protesters took to the streets of Sanaa on Sunday, chanting slogans against Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The foreign ministry of Iran, which supports the Huthis, denounced the attack as a "crime against humanity".

The Saudi-led coalition has come under increasing international scrutiny over civilian deaths.

In September 2015, a suspected coalition strike killed at least 131 civilians at a wedding near the Red Sea city of Mokha. The alliance denied any involvement.

And in March this year, Saudi-led air raids on a market killed at least 119 people, including 106 civilians, of which 24 were children, in the northern rebel-held province of Hajja.

In an initial statement to AFP, the coalition said it had no operations at the location.

The coalition "has in the past avoided such gatherings and (they) have never been a subject of targeting", it said.

In its latest statement, however, the coalition expressed its "deepest condolences and support to the families of the victims of hostilities since the coup takeover of power in Yemen during 2014".

In August, the US military said it had slashed its number of intelligence advisers supporting the coalition following concerns over civilian casualties.

The Huthis swept into Sanaa in September 2014 and advanced across much of Yemen, forcing the internationally recognised government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee.

Saturday`s strike destroys the chance of reaching a truce and reigniting the peace process, said April Longley Alley, a Yemen specialist at International Crisis Group.

"It almost certainly kills any hope of an immediate ceasefire and it will have longer term consequences for the potential to develop any sustainable peace plan," she said.

The conflict has killed more than 6,700 people -- almost two-thirds of them civilians -- and displaced at least three million since the coalition launched military operations, according to the United Nations.

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