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Yemen: Anger and sadness at latest Saudi-led escalation in air strikes

Response to Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi has left Yemen's civilian population worse off than ever
A man inspects the damage after an overnight Saudi-led air strike on Sanaa, 18 January 2022 (AFP)
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Sanaa

Yemeni civilians have told Middle East Eye they are sad, angry and fed up with the escalation in violence in their war-torn country over the last week, as the Saudi-led coalition responded to an attack on the United Arab Emirates carried out by the rebel Houthi movement. 

Reacting to the coalition’s 21 January bombing of a prison for migrants in Saada province, which left over 100 dead, Ahmed Maran, a local resident, said: “The Saudis don’t feel shame at all and they are killing civilians everywhere around the country.

“I saw the impact of the air strikes on the prison and it was completely damaged and the victims are civilians and guards so what’s the purpose of such attack?” Maran asked MEE. 

One attack after another

The latest round of violent escalation began on 17 January, when Houthi drones and missiles targeted a key oil facility in Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s capital. Incensed, the UAE’s foreign ministry said it reserved “the right to respond” to the Iran-aligned movement’s “terrorist” attacks. 

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Since then, the Saudi-led coalition, which includes the UAE, has launched heavy attacks on Sanaa and other Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen. The air strikes have killed well over a hundred civilians. 

On the night of 17 January, a Saudi-led aerial attack hit the house of a retired Houthi commander, Abdullah al-Junaid, killing him. The house is in a residential area, and more than 20 civilians were killed, including women and children.

A few days later, the Saada prison bombing left more than 100 dead, making it one of the deadliest single attacks since the war began in 2015. 

Although the Saudi-led coalition denied targeting the prison, residents in Saada confirmed hearing fighter jets overhead, followed by three explosions. Yemeni airspace is controlled by the coalition. 

UAE Yemen
The UAE-trained troops of the Giants Brigades on patrol, 22 January (AFP)

“No place is safe in Saada or Yemen as the aggression of the coalition can target any place and no one can stop them or demand the rights of civilians,” Maran said. “The aggression is shedding our blood every day and everywhere, and the world is silent.”

Maran said the world did not care about Yemen, and that all the United Nations did was form an investigation committee and then forget about it. He accused the UN of holding a biased position on Yemen. 

“I can say that targeting the prison left sadness in thousands of families in Saada and in Africa, as migrants were among the casualties and they were killed for nothing,” he said. “I hope that the UN come to share the sadness of those families and feel their suffering when they lose their loved ones.”

'A long line of unjustifiable air strikes'

Some international organisations have criticised the targeting of the prison and of civilians across the country. 

“This is the latest in a long line of unjustifiable air strikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition on places like schools, hospitals, markets, wedding parties and prisons,” said Ahmed Mahat, head of the Yemen mission for Doctors Without Borders (MSF). 

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“Since the beginning of the war we have frequently witnessed the terrible effects of indiscriminate coalition bombing on Yemen, including when our own hospitals have been attacked. 

“In recent days we have witnessed a worrying escalation in the war in Yemen, with many air strikes on Sanaa throughout the week, which have continued this morning,” added Mahat. 

Aid agencies said the escalation came after the UN Human Rights Council voted to end the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, the only international and independent body tasked with investigating the full extent of violations in the war. 

A people united in sadness

Yemenis all over the country expressed their anger at the killing of civilians, regardless of the targeted areas and the nationality of victims, either those from Yemen or migrants from the Horn of Africa.

“We are human beings and we feel with each other so I’m sad about each drop of blood shed in Yemen, either of Yemenis or Ethiopians who came to Yemen seeking work,” Noaman Shamsan, a resident in Sanaa told MEE.

'The Saudi coalition said they target military leaders and armouries but we saw them kill civilians in residential areas where there are no weapons'

- Noaman Shamsan, resident of Sanaa

“The Saudi coalition said they target military leaders and armouries but we saw them kill civilians in residential areas where there are no weapons.”

Shamsan believes that Saudi Arabia and its allies don’t want to end the war, saying they are “torturing” Yemenis, who are struggling to survive. 

“Even if they [the Saudi-led coalition] want to target Houthi leaders, they can do it far from residential areas. It isn’t necessary to kill civilians.”

At the moment, internet access is down across the country after a Saudi air strike on Hodeidah took out a telecommunications hub, with Yemenis unable to conduct social media campaigns relating to the attacks, as they usually would.

“Not all Yemenis know about the latest attacks on civilians as the internet is down, so they haven’t shared their feelings on social media. But I’m sure every Yemeni sympathises with the casualties in Saada, Sanaa and Hodeidah, as we are one body,” Shamsan said.

Bombings every night

Shamsan confirmed that Sanaa's residents are not sleeping well, as there are now air strikes every night. The sound of the bombing scares them, particularly now that bombs are once again hitting residential areas.

Eman Najib, a resident in Aden, told MEE that Yemenis are brothers and those who are in Aden or in other areas under the internationally recognised government, which is supported by the coalition, have relatives and friends in the Houthi-controlled areas who they are worried about.

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“No one in this world is happy to see civilians killed inside their homes and I witnessed war in Aden in 2015 so I feel with our brothers in the Houthi-controlled areas,” Najib said. 

“I call my relatives in Sanaa every day to make sure they are safe and I hope that the Saudi-led coalition stops this escalation as we saw civilians are killed in dozens.”

Najib said the war had brought sadness to each house in Yemen. Now she just wants peace.

“We were happy at the beginning of the Saudi-led coalition intervention in Yemen as we thought they would end the war in days - as they said.

"But it was a disaster and they haven’t been able to stop the war in seven years,” she said.