Saudi coalition to probe Yemen air strike

The air strike on a funeral hall in Sanaa was described as a "massacre" by the Houthi rebels and could further strain US-Saudi ties.
The air strike on a funeral hall in Sanaa was described as a "massacre" by the Houthi rebels and could further strain US-Saudi ties.PHOTO: REUTERS

Attack kills more than 140 people attending funeral; Washington reviewing support for alliance

SANAA • The Saudi-led coalition fighting rebels in Yemen has said it will investigate an air raid that killed over 140 people at a funeral, after Washington announced it was reviewing support for the alliance.

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels blamed the coalition for last Saturday's attack, one of the deadliest since it launched a military campaign against the Shi'ite insurgents in March 2015.

The attack could further sour US-Saudi ties already strained over the coalition's military intervention which is suspected of causing almost half of the more than 4,000 civilian deaths in Yemen's conflict.

It also risks embarrassing Washington, which has vehemently criticised Moscow over the heavy civilian death toll from Russian air raids in support of Syria's regime in Aleppo city.

After initially denying any responsibility, the coalition yesterday said it was ready to launch a probe into the "regrettable and painful" strike, which the UN said also wounded more than 525 people.

"The coalition will immediately investigate this case along with... experts from the United States who participated in previous investigations," it said. "The coalition is also willing to provide the investigation team with any data and information related to its military operations today, at the incident's location and the surrounding areas."

The Houthis accused the coalition of a "massacre", saying its planes hit a gathering of hundreds mourning the death of the father of rebel interior minister Jalal al-Rowaishan. They did not say if Mr Rowaishan or other senior figures were in the building at the time.

But Sanaa mayor Abdel Qader Hilal was among those killed, said the rebels' Almasirah television.

Thousands of angry protesters took to the streets of Sanaa yesterday, chanting slogans against Saudi Arabia and the US. Riyadh's key ally Washington said it had launched an "immediate review" of support to the Arab coalition.

"We are deeply disturbed by reports of today's air strike on a funeral hall in Yemen, which, if confirmed, would continue the troubling series of attacks striking Yemeni civilians," said White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price.

"In light of this and other recent incidents, we have initiated an immediate review of our already significantly reduced support to the Saudi-led coalition and are prepared to adjust our support so as to better align with US principles, values and interests.

"US security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank cheque," Mr Price said, and called for an "immediate" ceasefire.

The Houthis swept into Sanaa in September 2014 and advanced across much of Yemen, forcing the internationally recognised government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2016, with the headline 'Saudi coalition to probe Yemen air strike'. Print Edition | Subscribe