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UN panel calls for international inquiry in Yemen

Panel of experts press UN security council to launch inquiry to investigate reports of violations of international humanitarian law
The report counted 119 violations of humanitarian law by the Saudi coalition (AFP)

The Saudi-led coalition waging a bombing campaign in Yemen has carried out 119 sorties that violated humanitarian law, a UN panel of experts said in a report calling for an international commission of inquiry.  

The UN Security Council should consider setting up the inquiry to "investigate reports of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in Yemen by all parties and to identify the perpetrators of such violations," said the report obtained by AFP on Tuesday.

The panel said it had documented coalition strikes on civilian targets including refugee camps, weddings, buses, residential areas, medical facilities, schools, mosques, markets, factories, food warehouses and airports.

"Many attacks involved multiple air strikes on multiple civilian objects," it said.

Yemen descended into chaos when the coalition began air strikes in March to support the government and push back Houthi rebels who had seized the capital Sanaa.

More than 5,800 people have been killed and 27,000 wounded since then, according to UN figures.

About 60 percent of all civilian deaths and injuries were caused by air-launched explosives, the report said.

The experts documented at least three alleged cases of civilians fleeing residential bombings and being chased and shot at by helicopters.

While the panel was unable to travel to Yemen, they studied satellite imagery of cities before and after attacks that showed "extensive damage to residential areas and civilian objects".

More than 21 million people in Yemen - 82 percent of the population - are facing severe food shortages.

The dire humanitarian crisis is compounded by the Saudi blockade of ships carrying fuel, food and other essentials that are trying to reach Yemen.

The panel said that "civilians are disproportionately affected" by the fighting and deplored tactics that "constitute the prohibited use of starvation as a method of warfare." 

A previous bid at the UN Human Rights Council to set up an inquiry failed over objections from Saudi Arabia.

The panel's report was presented last week to the council, which must consider the next steps to try to end the fighting in Yemen.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has been increasingly vocal in his criticism of the Saudi campaign in Yemen.

Earlier this month, he warned that cluster bomb attacks by the coalition on Sanaa could amount to a war crime. The coalition later denied using the munition.

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