It has been confirmed a Saudi-led coalition bombed a center for the blind in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a on Tuesday — and they didn’t stop there. Also struck by coalition bombs were a wedding hall, the city’s Chamber of Commerce, and several residences — though no casualties were reported, one local source claimed three people had been injured.
“People with disabilities are being struck in their residence,” said dumbfounded Abdullah Ahmed Banyan, a patient at the Al Noor Center for Care and Rehabilitation of the Blind. “Around 1:30 am, two missiles hit the live-in quarters of a home for the blind. Can you imagine they are striking the blind?? What is the criminality? Why? Is it the blind [who] are fighting the war?”
Though a ceasefire was declared on December 15, the tenuous agreement cracked when both the Saudi-led coalition and the Iranian-backed Houthi fighters violated the terms. The respite from fighting formally ended on January 2. Hostilities have intensified in the meantime as diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran abruptly ended in the wake of the Saudi beheading of prominent cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, who was killed in a mass execution along with 46 others.
Now, as the conflict rages on, just under 3,ooo civilians have perished — a “disproportionate amount” of them at the hands of coalition forces — since the Saudis and their allies initiated this military push against the Houthis in March.
“The Chamber of Commerce was targeted last night by an airstrike,” said head of legal at the Chamber, Abdel Hakim Naser. “For what reason? This kind of airstrike is not justified and we hope that all sides refrain from targeting commercial and civilian sites, and civilians.”
That seems a reasonable request, though equally unlikely to be fulfilled. According to Rupert Colville of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: “We have also received alarming information on the alleged use of cluster bombs by coalition forces in Hajjah Governate.” A U.N. team investigating the allegations discovered remnants of 29 submunitions near banana plantations, and witnesses attested to the same in other villages.
Civilians often wind up victims of unexploded subordnance — sub-bombs of the parent cluster bomb host — which can be concealed in the landscape or picked up by unwitting children who mistake them for toys. Cluster munitions, though banned in an international agreement signed by 117 countries in 2008, could feasibly be employed by both the Saudis and the U.S., who never signed.
Worse still, as Yemen’s infrastructure and residences continue to be decimated by political conflict, ten of 22 governates face emergency-level food supply issues, with at least half the country described by the U.N. as “one step away” from famine. In November, the “2016 Humanitarian Needs Overview in Yemen” found 14.4 million people of the 23 million total population are food insecure — including 7.6 million who desperately need food assistance.
Though Human Rights Watch produced evidence last year that the Saudis had employed U.S.-supplied cluster munitions in fighting against the Houthis, the Saudi government continues to insist it only uses the insidious weapons against so-called legitimate targets. Incidentally, the U.S. re-upped the Saudi arsenal in November with a $1.2 billion, State Department-approved deal — which gave them an additional 22,000 bombs. And while numerous human rights organizations have condemned the acts of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, the U.S. has refused to voice concern over its ally’s actions.
While focus by the media largely targets the imbroglio in Syria, Yemen certainly deserves attention — and has become an enormous humanitarian crisis.
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