UN chief condemns deadly Saudi-led coalition strike in Yemen

The strike reportedly killed at least 60 people in a detention centre in the Houthi-held Saada province. PHOTO: REUTERS

SAADA/NEW YORK (REUTERS) - United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen on Friday (Jan 21) that reportedly killed at least 60 people in a detention centre in the Houthi-held Saada province.

A Reuters witness said several people, including African migrants, died in the attack. Mr Guterres' spokesman, Mr Stephane Dujarric, said further deadly air strikes had been reported elsewhere in Yemen, with children among those killed.

"An air strike on telecommunications facilities in Hodeidah has also significantly disrupted vital internet services across much of the country," Mr Dujarric said in a statement.

"The Secretary-General calls for prompt, effective and transparent investigations into these incidents to ensure accountability."

Save The Children said in a statement that three children were reportedly killed in the western city of Hodeidah.

The Saudi-led military coalition has been fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi group in Yemen since 2015. The coalition said the report of dozens of deaths on Friday would be investigated "using an internationally approved, independent process".

It has intensified air strikes on what it says are Houthi military targets after the group carried out an unprecedented assault on coalition member, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on Monday and further missile and drone launches at Saudi cities.

During a news conference earlier on Friday, Mr Guterres said: "This escalation needs to stop."

Mr Dujarric said Mr Guterres reminds all parties that they are obliged to "ensure that civilians are protected against the dangers arising from military operations, adhering to the principles of proportionality, distinction and precaution".

The UN Security Council condemned the Houthi attack on the UAE and other sites in Saudi Arabia in a statement on Friday, after a closed-door meeting requested by the UAE. The UAE joined the 15-member council this month for a two-year term.

Asked about the air strikes on Yemen on Friday, UAE UN ambassador Lana Nusseibeh told reporters: "The coalition undertake to abide by international law and proportionate response in all its military operations."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Farhan al Saud on Friday to reaffirm a US commitment to help Gulf allies improve their defence and underscored "the importance of mitigating civilian harm", the State Department said.

Later, Mr Blinken said in a separate statement that the heightening of the conflict was of "great concern" to the United States and called on all sides to de-escalate.

"The United States calls on all parties to the conflict to de-escalate, abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, and participate fully in an inclusive UN-led peace process," Mr Blinken said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen said that reports of it targeting a detention centre in Yemen's Saada province were untrue, the Saudi official news agency SPA reported on Saturday.

"The coalition will inform the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen and the International Committee of the Red Cross on the facts and details," the state news agency said, citing a coalition spokesman.

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