Skip to main content

More than 140 people killed in air raid on Yemen funeral hall, UN says

US begins 'immediate review' of Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, prepared to adjust support

Yemeni rescue workers search for victims on Saturday amid rubble of destroyed building after air strikes on capital Sanaa (AFP)

More than 140 people were killed and at least 525 wounded on Saturday when air strikes hit a funeral ceremony in Sanaa, Yemen, a United Nations official said. Houthi rebels blamed the attack on the Saudi-led coalition and the US said it would begin a review of the alliance.

The UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, said aid workers were "shocked and outraged" by the attacks that hit a community hall where mourners had gathered.

The UN aid official called for an immediate investigation and said the international community must exert pressure to ensure civilians are protected. "This violence against civilians in Yemen must stop immediately," McGoldrick said in a statement.

The coalition, which has come under increasing international scrutiny over alleged civilian deaths, denied responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement that it had no operations at the location and "other causes" for the incident must be considered. It said the alliance "has in the past avoided such gatherings and they have never been a subject of targeting".

The dead and wounded included senior military and security officials from the ranks of the Shia Houthi rebels fighting against the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, as well as their allies, loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, according to the Associated Press.

UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed called on the Saudi-led coalition to publish the results of its probe into the strikes.

"We must do everything possible to ensure the authors of these heinous attacks face justice," he said in Paris after talks with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

The US said it had launched an "immediate review" of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

"We are deeply disturbed by reports of today's air strike on a funeral hall in Yemen, which, if confirmed, would continue the troubling series of attacks striking Yemeni civilians," White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

"US security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check... In light of this and other recent incidents, we have initiated an immediate review of our already significantly reduced support to the Saudi-led coalition and are prepared to adjust our support so as to better align with US principles, values and interests, including achieving an immediate and durable end to Yemen's tragic conflict."

In the aftermath of the strike, hundreds of body parts were found strewn in and outside the hall, the Guardian said. Rescuers collected them in sacks. “The place has been turned into a lake of blood,” said one rescuer, Murad Tawfiq.

Emergency workers pulled at least 20 charred remains and body parts from the gutted building, while others scoured the wreckage in search for survivors, an AFP photographer at the scene said.

Some wounded had their legs torn off and were being treated on the spot by volunteers, he said.

Houthi-allied Almasirah television said Sanaa mayor Abdel Qader Hilal was among those killed.

People had come from all over Sanaa to attend the funeral, said Mulatif al-Mojani, who witnessed the air strikes. "A plane fired a missile and minutes later another plane pounded" the building, he told AFP.

Another witness, who declined to give his name, described the attack as a "war crime".

"This was a funeral for one man in Sanaa, and now it has turned into a funeral for scores of Yemenis," he said.

The strikes came as Saudi Arabia, which has overseen the bombing of Houthi rebels in Yemen since March 2015, is under increasing international scrutiny over civilian deaths from its air raids.

A security source, cited by the rebel website, said a fire subsequently ripped through the building.

Ambulance sirens blared as they transported the wounded away and residents said local hospitals had issued an appeal for blood donations.

The Houthis swept into Sanaa in September 2014 and advanced across much of Yemen, forcing the internationally recognised government of Hadi to flee the capital.

More than 6,700 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in Yemen since the coalition intervened in support of Hadi, according to the UN.

The Saudi-led alliance has come under mounting international criticism in recent months over the civilian death toll in its aerial campaign.

A UN report in August said coalition air strikes are suspected of causing about half of all civilian deaths in Yemen.

It called for an independent international body to investigate an array of serious violations by all sides.

The coalition has told AFP it uses highly accurate laser- and GPS-guided weapons and verifies targets many times to avoid civilian casualties.

In addition to the mounting death toll, Yemenis are facing twin health and hunger crises.

The UN's children agency UNICEF estimates that three million people are in need of immediate food supplies, while 1.5 million children suffer malnutrition.

This article is available in French on Middle east Eye French edition.