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Airstrike on Yemen aid facility could be violation, says HRW

The 18 April strike hit an Oxfam warehouse in Saada which contained materials to help thousands of households obtain clean water
A Yemeni boy carries water containers in Sanaa’s Old City in April (AFP)

An airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition on a warehouse of the aid group Oxfam appears to have violated the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

The strike occurred on 18 April at Oxfam's facility in the northern city of Sadaa, a traditional stronghold of the Houthis who are targeted by the coalition.

Under the laws of war "civilians and civilian objects may never be deliberate targets of attack," the New York-based watchdog said in a statement.

"The fact that the Oxfam warehouse should have been known to the coalition forces raises concerns that the attack was deliberate."

Smoke rises from Oxfam's warehouse in Saada (Oxfam/Fawaz Muhammad Saleh)

The coalition has not commented on the incident.

Its spokesman, Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri, stated repeatedly during the initial 27-day coalition air campaign that its forces were being careful to avoid civilian casualties.

On 13 April, he accused the Houthis of using civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and stadiums to store military equipment.

Oxfam's Yemen country director, Grace Ommer, called the warehouse attack "an absolute outrage".

She said the British-based charity told the coalition where its offices and storage facilities were located.

"The contents of the warehouse had no military value," but contained material related to the group's provision of clean water to thousands of households in Sadaa, Ommer said in a statement.

According to the UN, millions of people have been affected by conflict in Yemen, where they are struggling to access healthcare, water, food and fuel.

"The dire humanitarian situation in Yemen is made worse by attacks on relief supplies," Human Rights Watch said.

On Tuesday night, the coalition said it was ending its initial Operation Decisive Storm bombing campaign that aimed to halt the Houthi advance.

It said it was starting a new phase aiming to resume Yemen's political process, deliver aid and fight "terrorism".