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'Not a mistake': Saudis accused of deliberate bombing of Yemeni allies

Soldiers of the 22 Mechanised brigade say air attacks on their Taiz base - miles from the frontlines - shows Saudis view them as new enemies
A communication tower destroyed in Saudi coalition air strikes in Taiz on 14 November (AFP)

TAIZ, Yemen - Yemeni army commanders and soldiers have accused their allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE of deliberately targeting them in air attacks, in a further fraying of already strained alliances in the city of Taiz and beyond.

Troops from the 22 Mechanised brigade, which is loyal to the Saudi backed president-in-exile Abd Rabbuh Hadi, said two Saudi-led air strikes on Tuesday hit their positions at their main base on Saber mountain, killing six soldiers and injuring many more.

A third air strike killed two women and a child and injured three civilians near to the camp in Saber's al-Aroos area.

The Saber camp is 15km from Taiz's "conflict zone", where the brigade and its allies in the so-called "popular resistance" are fighting the Houthi movement.

The inspector general of the Yemen army Adel al-Qumairi, with oversight over the 22 Mechanised, said via Facebook on Wednesday: "I do not believe that the repeated air strikes on the military camps are by mistake. This is not a mistake; the question of why is still waiting an answer. It has come to a head."

Qumairi added: "Any committee charged with investigation must give clear answers and transparency - if it does not, the committee will be held responsible for the blood of martyrs."

Fares Aqlan, a soldier in 22 Mechanised, said: "There is no pretext for the coalition to target our camp. There is no fighting in Saber. The air strikes have shocked us.

"Saudi-led air strikes have in the past killed dozens of our forces - but they were on frontline positions during fighting. We believed these were mistakes.

This is not a mistake; the question of why is still waiting an answer

- Adel al-Qumairi, Yemen army inspector general

"I swear this time the air strikes were not mistakes. Neither the Saudi coalition nor the Yemen government have commented on the attack - I believe they have a secret plan against Taiz."

Saber, a strategically vital vantage point overlooking Taiz city, was liberated from the Houthis last year.

Aqlan said his forces "are fighting for the sake of Taiz and not for the sake of Saudi Arabia, so we will keep our fighting until the liberation of the whole province."

Dozens of activists protested on Wednesday in al-Aroos area, near Saber's summit, condemning the Saudi-led coalition for its actions.

New plans for Taiz

A military leader in 22 Mechanised, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "I am not a stupid man. I am 51, I have spent more than 25 years serving with the Yemeni army and participated in more than one war, so people like me cannot believe these attacks were mistakes. If the Houthis did not kill us, the Saudi-led air strikes will."

He stated that the Saudi-led coalition was implementing new plans in Taiz without coordination with the patchwork of militias under the "popular resistance" and army in Taiz because Saudi Arabia now considers some groups to be its enemies.

Pro-government forces in Taiz are divided between supporters and opponents of the Saudi Arabia. In recent weeks, Riyadh has designated the leader of the largest Salafi fighting group in Taiz, the Abu Abbas brigade, as an al-Qaeda terrorist - after years of arming its men.

Yemen's Salafi warlord - armed by Riyadh, branded a terrorist by Riyadh
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Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni activist was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 2011, told Almawqea website that the attacks were the latest in a botched and ill-thought-out Saudi campaign against the Houthis and their Iranian allies.

"The air strikes target the camps of the national army and resistance in Taiz, but they fail to target the leaders of the Houthis and their fighters," she said.

"I would say the Saudi-led air strikes killed have killed more fighters of the national army than Houthis."

Many Yemeni activists and journalists condemned the Saudi-led coalition for targeting the pro-government forces in Saber Mountain and other areas.

Popular resistance forces kicked the Houthis off Saber mountain last year (AFP)

Saad al-Hakimi, a social activist and humanitarian worker in Taiz city, told MEE civilians were still bearing the brunt of the Saudi bombing campaign.

Hakimi added: "There are far more civilians than Houthis killed - all of us know this to be the truth but some activists try to ignore it because of security or political concerns."

President Hadi must respond to the targeting of Saber, and tell Yemenis why it happened

- Saad al-Hakimi, social activist

"President Hadi and the prime minister must respond to the targeting of Saber, and tell Yemenis why it happened."

Human Rights Watch accused the Saudi-led coalition in September 2017 of war crimes because of the unlawful attacks that target civilians in Yemen.

"No coalition member can claim clean hands in Yemen until all its members explain their role in scores of documented unlawful attacks," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"It borders on the absurd for the coalition to claim its own investigations are credible when it refuses to release even basic information like which countries participated in an attack and whether anyone has been held accountable."

Human Rights Watch has documented 58 apparently unlawful coalition airstrikes since the start of the campaign, which have killed nearly 800 civilians and hit homes, markets, hospitals, schools, civilian businesses, and mosques. Some attacks may amount to war crimes.

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

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