DUBAI (RTRS): An air strike on a funeral gathering, widely blamed on Saudi-led warplanes, poses more trouble for a Western-backed Arab campaign against Yemen’s Houthis that has long been criticised for civilian losses. The White House announced an immediate review of Washington’s support for the 18-month-old military push after planes hit mourners at a community hall in the capital Sanaa on Saturday, killing 140 people according to one UN estimate and 82 according to the Houthis.

The statement from Riyadh’s main ally, noting for the second time in as many months that US support was not “a blank check”, sets up an awkward test of a Saudi-US partnership already strained by differences over wars in other Arab lands.

The reproach also indirectly hands a propaganda win to Riyadh’s arch rival Tehran, a Houthi ally that has long seen the Sunni kingdom as a corrupt and domineering influence on its impoverished southern neighbour, diplomats say. Sources in the Saudi-led coalition denied any role in the attack, but Riyadh later promised an investigation of the “regrettable and painful” incident, with US expert advice. The move was apparently aimed at heading off further criticism of a military campaign already under fire for causing hundreds of civilian deaths in apparently indiscriminate attacks.

“There will be pressure on the campaign,” said Mustafa Alani, a security analyst close to Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry. While the coalition followed very careful rules and understood human rights concerns, “there will now be pressure to end the whole operation, or to restrict the operation”. An estimated 10,000 people have been killed in the war and the United Nations blames coalition strikes for 60 percent of some 3,800 civilian deaths since they began in March 2015. The outcry over civilian casualties has led some lawmakers in the United States and Britain as well as rights activists to push for curbs on arms sales to Riyadh, so far without success.

The coalition denies deliberately targeting civilians and says it goes to great lengths to ensure its raids are precisely targeted, with explosive loads calibrated to limit the risk of causing damage beyond the immediate target area. Saudi officials said the kingdom did not want to fight a war in Yemen. “But we cannot stand by while insurgents overthrow a legitimate government in a neighbouring state by force, while Yemen becomes a lawless state and terrorist haven, and while we are attacked across our border,” one of the officials said. “Saudi Arabia will continue to provide military support to Yemen’s legitimate government while the insurgents continue their illegal campaign. … But we will also continue to support and promote a negotiated settlement.”

The coalition accuses the Houthis, who seized much of the north in a series of military advances since 2014, of placing military targets in civilian areas. The Houthis deny this. Fury in Sanaa at Saturday’s raid was echoed internationally. A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said any deliberate attack against civilians was utterly unacceptable. Ban called for “a prompt and impartial investigation of this incident.

Those responsible for the attack must be brought to justice”, the spokesman said. UN emergency relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien described the attack as obscene and heinous. France called it a “massacre” and said it wanted an independent inquiry. There was dismay, too, in the ranks of the internationally recognised Yemeni government that the coalition is defending. “It’s shocking to see that a target like this was hit,” said a senior official in the Saudibacked government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. “It’s the latest in a series of attacks by all sides on civilian targets like homes and public gatherings that are turning this into a dirty war.” “If anything positive can come from this, it would be increasing the will for a ceasefire that is needed. But incidents like these before have just fuelled a desire for revenge.”

Source: Arab Times



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