Saudi coalition denies Yemen school hit in raid

Armed boys performing the traditional Baraa dance at a tribal gathering held by tribesmen loyal to the Huthi movement. Unicef has warned that with the intensification in violence across Yemen in the past week, the number of children killed and injure
Armed boys performing the traditional Baraa dance at a tribal gathering held by tribesmen loyal to the Huthi movement. Unicef has warned that with the intensification in violence across Yemen in the past week, the number of children killed and injured by air strikes, street fighting and landmines has grown sharply.PHOTO: REUTERS

RIYADH • Aid agencies have decried Saudi-led air strikes on a school which they claimed killed 10 children in a rebel-held province of Yemen, but the coalition of Arab states said it was a camp at which Iran-backed rebels train underage soldiers.

Doctors Without Borders, a Paris-based relief agency also known as MSF, said the children were killed on Saturday in coalition air raids on a school in Haydan, a town in rebel-held Saada province.

The Saudi-led coalition has been battling Huthi rebels since last year when the insurgents seized the capital Sanaa before expanding to other parts of the country.

Ten days ago, it acknowledged "shortcomings" in two out of eight cases it has investigated of strikes on civilian targets in Yemen that the United Nations has condemned.

Coalition spokesman General Ahmed Assiri said the strikes hit a Huthi training camp, killing militia fighters including a leader identified as Yehya Munassar Abu Rabua.

"The site that was bombed... is a major training camp for militia," he told the Agence France-Presse yesterday. "Why would children be at a training camp?"

Yemen's government had confirmed to the coalition that "there is no school in this area", he said.

Gen Assiri said that MSF's toll "confirms the Huthis' practice of recruiting and subjecting children to terror".

"They... use them as scouts, guards, messengers and fighters," Gen Assiri said. "When jets target training camps, they cannot distinguish between ages."

MSF spokesman Malak Shaher said those killed in the strikes on "a Koranic school" were all under the age of 15. She demanded that "all parties take the measures necessary to protect civilians".

But Gen Assiri criticised the organisation for overlooking the issue of child soldiers.

"We would have hoped MSF would take measures to stop the recruitment of children to fight in wars instead of crying over them in the media," he said.

The United Nation's children agency, Unicef, has warned that "with the intensification in violence across the country in the past week, the number of children killed and injured by air strikes, street fighting and landmines has grown sharply."

The rebels posted pictures and videos on Facebook of dead and bloodied children wrapped in blankets. Gen Assiri sent to Agence France-Presse pictures of Huthi children carrying rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

The Arab coalition launched its air war against the Huthis on March 26 last year.

After a three-month pause, it resumed raids last Tuesday, less than 72 hours after UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced the collapse of peace talks.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline 'Saudi coalition denies Yemen school hit in raid'. Print Edition | Subscribe