The Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen has repeatedly targeted and attacked hospitals and clinics, an appalling trend that “disrespects the neutrality of health facilities” in war, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Tuesday.
The U.S.-backed coalition has bombed nearly 100 hospitals throughout Yemen since March, with the most recent airstrike hitting a clinic on Sunday in the southern city of Taiz—one the country’s most populous regions, which has been under heavy fire for months. The shelling of Al-Thawra hospital in the south came just weeks after a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic was hit in Haydan, in the north.
“Al-Thawra hospital, one of the main health care facilities in Taiz which is providing treatment for about 50 injured people every day was reportedly shelled several times on Sunday. The shelling endangered the lives of patients and staff on site,” Kedir Awol Omar, the deputy head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen, said on Tuesday. “The neutrality of healthcare facilities and staff is not being respected. Health facilities are deliberately attacked and surgical and medical supplies are also being blocked from reaching hospitals in areas under siege.”
Airstrikes on medical clinics are “a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law,” ICRC said.
MSF also said on Tuesday that it has been unable to deliver essential medical aid to two hospitals stationed in a particular volatile corner of Taiz, where almost half of health facilities face an influx of wounded patients along with a scarcity in supplies.
“A large part of the population of Taiz is displaced within the city,” said Karline Kleijer, MSF’s emergency manager for Yemen. “They are battling for their survival on a daily basis, and fighting to get hold of sufficient food and water, due to the steep cost of basic necessities and the prevailing insecurity.”
“The situation in Taiz is dramatic and will only get worse in the coming weeks if no efforts are made to spare civilians from the violence and allow them to access basic services, including health facilities,” Kleijer said.
Saudi officials have not responded to the most recent bombing, but they denied being aware that the October airstrikes in Haydan had targeted a clinic.
“Saudi authorities are denying the evident truth of having destroyed a hospital,” said Laurent Sury, head of MSF emergency operations. “This is an alarming sign for the Yemeni people and for those trying to assist them. How are we to draw lessons from what happened when all we face are denials? How can we continue to work without any form of commitment that civilian structures will be spared?”
Amnesty International in October demanded an independent investigation of the bombing in Haydan, which it said could amount to a war crime. Further, the humanitarian aid group noted that while the planes that dropped the shells were Saudi, the bombs themselves were American.
“The USA and other states exporting weapons to any of the parties to the Yemen conflict have a responsibility to ensure that the arms transfers they authorize are not facilitating serious violations of international humanitarian law,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty’s senior crisis response adviser. “Lack of accountability has contributed to the worsening crisis and unless perpetrators believe they will be brought to justice for their crimes, civilians will continue to suffer the consequences.”
“The world’s indifference to the suffering of Yemeni civilians in this conflict is shocking,” Rovera said.
Meanwhile, MSF’s Kleijer on Sunday published testimony from her most recent visit to Taiz, describing the devastating impacts of the siege by warring factions and the unrelenting intervention of military forces.
“A lot of airstrikes happen at night,” Kleijer wrote. “Lying in your bed, you hear the planes circling above the city, then you hear the whistle of a bomb falling, and then you brace yourself for the impact. You hope it’s not your building that going to be hit. And then it hits another building, not your house, so as well as being frightened, you’re also relieved.”
“The noise of the airstrikes is so loud and intense that you can actually feel it in your bones,” Kleijer wrote. “This is what people have been going through every night, for months on end…everything is touched by the war: the children have a game called ‘One two three airstrike’ in which they all fling themselves to the ground.”
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