A brutal and deadly civil war has raged in the poverty-stricken Middle Eastern nation of Yemen as Iran-backed Houthi rebels have attempted to seize control of the country from a Saudi-backed coalition supporting the besieged Yemeni government forces.
The ante in that ongoing struggle appears to have been raised after more than 100 people were reportedly killed in an airstrike on a large building in the Houthi-held city of Dhamar. The Saudi-led coalition claimed the building housed “drones and missiles” and was a military compound, but the Houthi rebels — as well as the Red Cross — claim the targeted building was nothing more than a prisoner detention facility.
The Guardian reported that the International Committee of the Red Cross was one of the first organizations to reach the scene with medical personnel and body bags in the aftermath of the devastating airstrikes.
“The location that was hit has been visited by ICRC before,” Franz Rauchenstein, head of the ICRC’s Yemen delegation, told The Guardian. “It’s a college building that has been empty and has been used as a detention facility for a while.”
“What is most disturbing is that [the attack was] on a prison. To hit such a building is shocking and saddening — prisoners are protected by international law,” he added.
It was estimated that at least 100 individuals were dead and more than 40 others wounded in the airstrikes, and while there was a “relentless” search through the rubble for more survivors, prospects were slim.
Saudis: Compound a legitimate target
For its part, the Saudi-led coalition didn’t deny or dismiss the potential that the targeted facility was, in fact, being utilized as a detention facility, but rather maintained in a statement issued ahead of the ICRC’s assessment that the building was well-known to be “a military compound which was a legitimate military target.”
The coalition pointed to the fact that there were secondary explosions following the initial airstrikes that proved the facility had been used as a storage location for various weaponry and ammunition. Indeed, the coalition accused the Houthi rebels of “claiming it was a secret prison” in order to mask the true purpose of the building and hide what was stockpiled within it.
“This is a traditional Houthi tactic and a violation of the laws of armed conflict,” coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Malk explained. “This site was not registered with the United Nations [and] was not on the no-strike list.”
The coalition further claimed that “all precautionary measures to protect civilians” had been taken and that any innocent civilians who may have died in the airstrike were the responsibility of the Houthi rebels and their Iranian backers.
Both sides to blame
It must be noted that the ongoing civil war in Yemen in which tens of thousands of people have died is a decidedly savage and uncivilized affair, an honest to goodness “humanitarian crisis” brought about by the use of horrific tactics — ostensibly even actual war crimes — by both sides of the conflict.
Whether it be alleged indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas by the Saudi-led coalition, or the alleged deliberate use of civilians as human shields by the Houthi rebels — not so much to protect themselves but to gain an edge in the coinciding public relations battle — both sides share the blame for what has gone on, and the rest of the world can only mourn while watching the terrible carnage unfold.