US reviews support for Saudi coalition after Yemen carnage

After initially denying any responsibility, the Saudi-led coalition says on Sunday it is ready to launch a probe into the "regrettable and painful" strike that killed more than 140 people.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

People stand at the site of an air strike which witnesses said was conducted by Saudi-led coalition aircraft.

Updated Oct 9, 2016

The United States has said it would review its support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting against the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen following a deadly air strike that killed at least 140 people.

"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," White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement on Saturday.

"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, including achieving an immediate and durable end to Yemen's tragic conflict."

Price stressed that "US security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check," and called on all sides to implement an "immediate" ceasefire.

Earlier on Saturday, more than 140 mourners were killed while attending a funeral for the father of the Houthi-appointed interior minister, Jalal al-Roweishan, according to local health officials.

Jamie McGoldrick, a UN official in charge of humanitarian efforts in the country, said more than 525 were injured.

The death toll was one of the largest in any single incident since the Saudi-led alliance began military operations to try to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power following his ousting by the Houthi rebels in March 2015.

The Houthis blamed the Saudi-led coalition for the incident.

"The Saudi aggression committed a major crime today, by attacking a mourning hall for the al-Roweishan family, targeting residents in the hall. As a result, 534 were wounded and 82 were martyred," Ghazi Ismail, a health official appointed by the Houthi militia, told a news conference in Sanaa.

People carry the body of man killed in the strike. (Reuters)

After initially denying any responsibility, the coalition said on Sunday it was ready to launch a probe into the "regrettable and painful" strike.

"The coalition will immediately investigate this case along with Joint Incidents Assessment Team in Yemen and experts from the United States who participated in previous investigations," it said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

"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," it said.

"The result of the investigation should be announced as soon as it's completed."

Scene of carnage

Residents said aircraft fired two missiles at the hall, where hundreds of mourners had gathered to offer condolences.

One missile tore through the building, setting it on fire and sending a large plume of smoke above the area, Reuters reported. 

Witnesses described a scene of carnage, with charred or mutilated bodies strewn around. Ambulances raced to carry the wounded to hospitals, which sent out urgent appeals for blood.

A spokesman for Houthis condemned the strike as an act of savagery.

Fire fighters extinguish flames at the site of the attack. (Reuters)

"The aggression continues to shed blood in an uncommon savagery and with international collusion that reaches the level of direct participation," the Houthi-run Saba news agency quoted the group's spokesman, Mohammed Abdul-Salam, as saying in a statement.

At least two local officials were among the dead. It was not immediately clear if Roweishan was in the hall when the strike occurred.

Roweishan had sided with the Houthi movement when President Hadi fled Yemen after the rebels advanced on his headquarters in the southern port city of Aden in March 2015.

The Saudi-led coalition has been providing air support for Hadi's forces in a civil war that has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than three million.

More than 6,700 people – most of them civilians – have been killed in Yemen since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in the country's civil war.

Fighting has intensified since August when UN-sponsored peace talks in Kuwait ended without an agreement.

The Saudi-led coalition has been blamed for several attacks on medical centres, including some run by international aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), schools, factories and homes in the past 18 months.

In August, MSF said it was evacuating its staff from six hospitals in northern Yemen after a coalition air strike hit a health facility operated by the group, killing 19 people.

TRTWorld and agencies