Airstrike kills more than 140 at Yemen funeral

An airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition on Saturday hit a funeral hall packed with mourners in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, killing at least 140 people and turning the site into what one rescuer described as a “lake of blood.”

The UN said reports from health officials in Yemen also indicated more than 525 were wounded in the attack.

Yemeni security and medical officials said the dead and wounded include military and security officials from the ranks of the Shia Houthi rebels fighting the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, as well as their allies, loyalists of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Among those killed was Maj.-Gen. Abdul-Qader Hilal, head of the capital’s local council, according to the officials.

‘Shocked and outraged’

Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, said in a statement that the humanitarian community in the country is “shocked and outraged” by the airstrikes.

He condemned the “horrific attack” and reminded all parties to the conflict “that under international humanitarian law, they are obliged to protect civilians and civilian infrastructures.” He called for an immediate investigation into the incident.

“The international community must exert pressure and influence on all parties to the conflict to ensure civilians are protected,” said McGoldrick. “This violence against civilians in Yemen must stop immediately.”

‘A lake of blood’

In the aftermath of the strike, hundreds of body parts were found strewn in and outside the hall. Rescuers collected them in sacks.

“The place has been turned into a lake of blood,” said one rescuer, Murad Tawfiq.

Ambulances rushed to the site to ferry the wounded to hospitals. In radio broadcasts, the health ministry summoned off-duty doctors and called on residents to donate blood. Rescuers, meanwhile, sifted through the rubble in search of more casualties, but a fire that erupted hindered their work.

Mohammed Abdul-Salam, the Houthis’ spokesman in Sanaa, angrily denounced the airstrike as the latest act of “genocide” by the Saudi-led coalition.

“The silence of the United Nations and the international community is the munition of the murderers,” he said. “Those murderers will not escape divine justice.”

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People stand at the site of an airstrike at a hall where a wake for the father of Jalal al-Roweishan, the interior minister in the Houthi-dominated Yemeni government, was being held. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

U.S. ‘deeply disturbed’ by the violence

The United States has been backing the Saudi-led coalition, but White House national security council spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. is “deeply disturbed” by the reports on the funeral hall airstrike which “if confirmed, would continue the troubling series of attacks striking Yemeni civilians.” He warned that U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia “is not a blank check.”

“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 U.S. principles, values and interests, including achieving an immediate and durable end to Yemen’s tragic conflict,” Price said in a statement late Saturday.

Latest tragedy in country’s civil war

Saturday’s funeral was held for Sheikh Ali al-Rawishan, father of Interior Minister Galal al-Rawishan, an ally of both the Houthis and President Saleh.

The Saudi-led coalition backs Hadi’s government which, together with its own allies, is fighting the Houthis and Saleh loyalists in a civil war that broke out in 2014.

Roughly 3,799 civilians have been killed since the Saudi-led air campaign began in March of last year, according to a recent report by the UN’s human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. The UN and rights groups estimate the conflict has claimed the lives of at least 9,000 people and displaced nearly 3 million more in the Arab world’s poorest country.

According to the report, coalition airstrikes were responsible for 60 percent of civilian deaths over a year-long span starting in July last year. Just under one-quarter — 475 — civilian deaths were attributed to rebel forces like those loyal to Saleh, and another 113 to affiliates of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

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