(Today’s Zaman) — A leading international rights group said Tuesday that all sides fighting in Yemen have left a “trail of civilian death and destruction” in the conflict, killing scores of innocent people in what could amount to war crimes.
In its latest report on the fighting, Amnesty International accused both the Saudi-led coalition carrying out air strikes in Yemen and the forces on the ground, supporting or opposing the Shiite rebels known as Houthis. The London-based rights group said the violence has been particularly deadly in the southern cities of Taiz and Aden, with dozens of children among those killed.
Yemen’s conflict pits the Houthis and troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants and troops loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is in exile in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are leading a US-backed Arab coalition that is carrying out airstrikes against Houthi forces.
“Civilians in southern Yemen have found themselves trapped in a deadly crossfire between Houthi loyalists and anti-Houthi groups on the ground, while facing the persistent threat of coalition airstrikes from the sky. All the parties to this conflict have displayed a ruthless and wanton disregard for the safety of civilians,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty’s senior crisis response adviser.
“The report depicts in harrowing detail the gruesome and bloody trail of death and destruction in Taiz and Aden from unlawful attacks, which may amount to war crimes, by all parties,” Amnesty said.
Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have repeatedly expressed concern that both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi-allied forces were violating the laws of war and not doing enough to prevent or minimize civilian casualties.
Amnesty has previously said that evidence suggested the Houthis carried out indiscriminate mortar attacks on civilians and repeatedly targeted medical workers and facilities in Aden.
In Tuesday’s report, Amnesty catalogued a series of incidents involving both air and ground operations. During its June-July research mission to Yemen, Amnesty investigated eight airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, which hit heavily populated areas mostly with no nearby military targets, killing at least 141 civilians and wounding 101 others, mostly women and children.
The group said it also investigated dozens of incidents of ground combat, where both sides routinely used weapons such as Grad-type rockets, mortars and artillery shells in densely populated residential areas. In Aden and Taiz, it said at least 68 civilians were killed and 99 wounded in such attacks.
One of the deadliest attacks was on July 19, when the Houthis and their allies shelled the Dar Saad neighborhood of Aden, killing 45 people, mostly civilians, Amnesty said.
Earlier this month, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that at least 1,916 civilians have died in the Yemen conflict since it escalated on March 26.
Saudi-led warplanes wreak havoc
Meanwhile, warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition hit the Houthi-controlled Red Sea port of Hodeida on Tuesday, destroying cranes and warehouses in the main entry point for aid supplies to Yemen’s north.
Rival factions also battled further south overnight in Yemen’s third city, Taiz, Arab television stations reported, as local militias opposed to the Houthis attempted to consolidate recent advances on it.
The Iranian-allied Houthis seized Yemen’s capital Sanaa last September in what they called a revolution against a corrupt government, then took over much of the country.
The Saudi-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled to the southern port of Aden, then escaped to Riyadh in March. Gulf Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia intervened in the conflict to push back what they see as spreading Iranian influence in their backyard.
Loyalist forces, backed by Gulf Arab planes, weapons and training, have been on the offensive since breaking out of Aden last month, claiming a string of gains against the Houthis.
The war has killed more than 4,300 people, many of them civilians, and spread disease and hunger in one of the Arab world’s poorest states.
Hodeida, lying about 150 kilometers (95 miles) due west of Sanaa, has become a focal point of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, which the International Committee of the Red Cross said last week was critical.
Officials said the latest raids destroyed the port’s four cranes and also hit warehouses, bringing work to a halt. There was no information on what was in the warehouses.
Aid groups have previously complained that a coalition naval blockade has stopped relief supplies entering Yemen. The coalition, in which the United Arab Emirates also plays a big military role, has accused the Houthis of commandeering aid shipments for war use.
Anti-Houthi groups have pushed the northern militia out of some southern provinces since late July, but while that has allowed aid to reach Aden in the south, the humanitarian crisis elsewhere remains critical.
Besides advancing from the south, coalition-backed forces are also fighting the Houthis and Saleh’s troops on a second front around Marib, northeast of Sanaa.
As well as retaining a foothold in Taiz, the Houthis and allied army units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh control the northern highlands and Red Sea coastal plain as far south as Ibb, where coalition-backed forces advanced last week.
Ibb is about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Taiz and 200 kilometers southeast of Hodeida.
Saudi Arabia fears a victory for the Houthis would be used by its main regional foe Iran to encircle Gulf states and undermine their security.