Official: 12 dead in Saudi-led airstrike on Yemeni sheikh's house

Twelve people were killed Tuesday in an airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition on the house of a Yemeni tribal sheikh, a health ministry official in the rebel-held capital Sana'a said.

The deaths come a day after 14 people were killed in an airstrike on a hospital run by Doctors without Borders (MSF) north of Sana'a, according to the international medical charity, which Tuesday revised its toll upwards from an earlier 11.

The health official, who declined to be quoted by name, said that Tuesday's strikes appeared to follow the controversial "double tap" tactic, with a second strike killing people trying to rescue victims of the initial attack.

His account was backed up by eye witnesses in Nehm district, close to front lines where forces loyal to Saudi-backed President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi are seeking to advance towards Sana'a.

The witnesses, who also declined to be quoted by name, said Sheikh Muhsin Assem, whose house was hit, was a known supporter of the Houthi rebels against whom the Saudi-led coalition is fighting.

Civilian members of Assem's family as well as other civilians who tried to rescue survivors from the first strike were among the victims, they said.

MSF meanwhile said that the hospital hit on Monday, in Abs, north of Sana'a, was "full of patients recovering from surgery, in maternity, newborns, and children in paediatrics."

“MSF evacuated all the patients and staff but with the closure of this once fully functioning hospital that served the whole area, the community is now deprived of essential medical services at a time when access to healthcare is most vital,” Juan Prieto, the charity's head of mission in Yemen, said.

MSF said that it had shared the coordinates of the hospital with all parties to the conflict, including the Saudi-led coalition. The organization did not attribute blame for the airstrike, but only the coalition carries out regular airstrikes in Houthi-controlled areas.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has condemned Monday's hospital strike and called for prompt independent investigations on all attacks on medical facilities.

The UN chief noted that although "hospitals and medical personnel are explicitly protected under international humanitarian law," parties to the conflict have destroyed or damaged over 70 health facilities.

The official Saudi Press Agency reported that a "joint incident assessment team" was carrying out an urgent independent investigation into reports of the raid and would make its findings public.

In September Ban called on the coalition to halt its airstrikes, saying they were responsible for the majority of civilian casualties in Yemen.

Also on Tuesday, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh called for support for a ruling presidential council set up by the Houthis and his own followers late last month.

The council should quickly form a government to supervise parliamentary and presidential elections, Saleh said.

Saleh, who ruled Northern Yemen since 1978 and the unified Yemen since 1990, stepped down in favour of Hadi after a popular uprising in 2011.

He has been accused since then of trying to prevent progress towards a lasting political settlement.

Most recently he has formed an alliance with the Houthis, originally a Shiite revivalist movement from the far north. Elite army forces still loyal to him have helped the rebels gain control of most of northern and central Yemen. The south and east are largely held by Hadi loyalists and a range of local allies.

The conflict has intensified since August 6, when peace talks in Kuwait were suspended after the Houthis and Saleh's General People's Congress party refused to sign off on peace proposals put forward by UN envoy Ismail Ould Sheikh Ahmed.

Hadi's international recognized government had agreed to the proposals, which, according to leaks, called for the withdrawal of armed forces from cities held by the Houthis and the surrender of heavy weapons prior to a new phase of political negotiations.

The Houthis and Saleh's party said they wanted a substantive agreement on political and economic as well as security issues.

Last update: Tue, 16/08/2016 - 20:44

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