Dozens killed in airstrikes on prisons in Yemen

At least 70 people were killed in an airstrike against a prison and at least three children died in a separate bombing as Yemen’s protracted conflict was hit by a dramatic escalation of violence on Friday.

The Huthi rebels released gruesome videos showing bodies in the rubble and damaged bodies from the prison attack, which leveled buildings near the prison in their northern heart of Saada.

Further south in the port city of Hodeida, the children died when airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition hit a telecommunications facility while they were playing nearby, Save the Children said. Yemen was also hit by a nationwide internet outage.

“The children reportedly were playing on a nearby football field when missiles hit,” said Save the Children.

The UN Office for Human Rights said reports of intensified coalition airstrikes on populated areas were “deeply shocking”.

Eight aid organizations active in Yemen said in a joint statement that they were “appalled by the news that more than 70 people, including migrants, women and children, have been killed … in a blatant disregard for civilian life.”

They said the Saada prison was used as a detention center for migrants, who made up many of the victims.

“Proportional response” But the United Arab Emirates insisted that they and other coalition members remained engaged in “proportional” responses to Huthi attacks.

“The coalition is committed to complying with international law and proportionate responses in all its military operations,” said Lana Nusseibeh, UN Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.

The attacks came after Huthis took the seven-year war into a new phase by claiming a drone and missile attack on Abu Dhabi that killed three people on Monday.

They also arrived when the UN Security Council met at the UAE’s request to discuss the attack on Abu Dhabi.

The Council unanimously condemned the “abominable terrorist attacks” of the Yemeni rebels, but in a statement before the meeting, the Norwegian Presidency of the Council also strongly condemned the recent violence.

“It is not acceptable,” Norwegian Ambassador Mona Juul said of the strikes, demanding “downsizing and restraint”.

Aid workers said hospitals in Saada were overwhelmed after the jail attack, which left 70 dead and 138 injured, according to Médecins Sans Frontières.

Two other hospitals have received “many injured” and when the night fell they were still searching in the rubble, the aid agency stated.

The “horrific act” Ahmed Mahat, Médecins Sans Frontières’ chief of staff in Yemen, said: “There are many bodies left at the scene of the airstrike, many missing people.”

“It is impossible to know how many people have been killed. It seems to have been a terrible act of violence.”

The coalition claimed the attack in Hodeida, a lifeline port for the devastated country, but did not say they had carried out any attacks on Saada.

Saudi Arabia’s state news agency said the coalition carried out “precision air strikes … to destroy the capacity of the Huthi militia in Hodeida”.

It said Saudi air defenses destroyed a missile fired from Saada on Friday at Khamis Mushait, the site of a large Saudi air base.

The global internet monitoring dog NetBlocks reported a “national-scale collapse of internet connection”.

AFP correspondents in Hodeida and Sanaa confirmed the outage. Save the Children said it would hamper its operational capacity.

Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when the Huthis descended from their base in Saada to conquer the capital Sanaa, prompting Saudi-led forces to intervene to support the government the following year.

Tensions have skyrocketed in recent weeks after the UAE-backed Giants Brigade drove the rebels out of Shabwa province, undermining their months-long campaign to take the key city of Marib further north.

On January 3, Huthis hijacked a ship flying the flag of the United Arab Emirates in the Red Sea, which led to a warning from the coalition that it would target rebel-controlled ports.

And on Monday, they claimed a long-range attack that affected oil facilities and the airport in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, killing two Indians and a Pakistani and injuring six other people.

The attack – the first deadly attack recognized by the United Arab Emirates within its borders and claimed by the Huthis – opened a new front in Yemen’s war and caused regional tensions to skyrocket.

In retaliation, the coalition carried out airstrikes on rebel-held Sanaa, killing 14 people.

Yemen’s civil war has been a disaster for millions of its citizens who have fled their homes, with many close starving in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The UN has estimated that the war killed 377,000 people by the end of 2021, both directly and indirectly due to famine and disease.


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