Yemen war: Third of all Gulf airstrikes hitting civilian targets, new data reveals, as country marks fifth anniversary of ruinous conflict
More than 18,400 civilians have been killed or wounded in Gulf air raids
Nearly a third of all Gulf coalition air raids on Yemen have hit civilian targets including hospitals, schools and food stores, new data has revealed, as the war-ravaged country marks the fifth anniversary of the conflict amid the coronavirus crisis.
According to the Yemen Data Project, more than 18,400 civilians have been killed or injured by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies since they launched a bombing campaign in 2015 to oust the Iran-backed Houthis and restore the government.
Over 8,600, a quarter of them women and children, were killed across tens of thousands of raids, marking 70 per cent of the total civilian death toll documented by rights groups.
The same report said over the last five years coalition aircraft have bombed medical facilities including hospitals and clinics 83 times, killing 95 civilians and injuring a further 116.
Over 60 food stores have also been hit, alongside 134 water and electricity facilities.
The Gulf coalition has repeatedly denied it targets civilians and maintains its Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT) investigates the impact of its raids to check violations.
However, the JIAT has been accused by rights groups of mostly absolving the coalition.
In its latest statement two weeks ago the JIAT cleared the coalition of any wrongdoing after United Nations agencies alleged it of carrying out a deadly attack on a North Yemen market in November killing 10 civilians and 18 inured more.
“The data clearly shows that over the five years [the coalition] has been consistently hitting civilian targets. That’s indisputable,” said the Yemen Data Project’s Iona Craig, adding that on average the alliance causes 10 civilian casualties a day.
“It’s not just hospitals and medical facilities you have to take into account. It’s the bombing of water and electricity infrastructure, the impact on food supply lines with food storage facilities and crucial road bridges being hit too,” she added.
Craig said that while the data shows there had been a steady decline in the rate of bombings, one of the deadliest ever bombings for civilians took place on 31 August 2019.
That day over 150 civilians were killed in an air-raid on a prison complex in Dhamar, southwest of the country.
“Mass civilian casualty events are still happening even when there are fewer airstrikes,” she added.
The data comes as the country marks the fifth anniversary of the devastating conflict which according to the United Nations has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in terms of numbers.
The conflict erupted in late 2014 when the Houthis swept control of the country ousting recognised president, and Gulf ally, Abedrabbou Mansour Hadi.
Fearing the encroachment of Iranian influence in the region in March 2015, Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies including the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Egypt launched a bombing campaign. The alliance later sent in ground troops.
Five years on an estimated 80 per cent of the population - or 24 million people - require some form of humanitarian assistance to survive.
Two-thirds of the country is one step from famine.
So far, the country has yet to record a novel coronavirus case but there are fears that when the deadly disease arrives it will quickly spread through the country, as the fighting has decimated the health care system.
Only half of all hospitals and medical centres are functioning, according to the United Nations.
Even those that are open are facing severe shortages of medicines, equipment and staff.
According to Oxfam, 17 million people – more than half the population – have no access to clean water.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and the Yemeni human rights group Mwatana released an extensive report last week saying in total between 2015 and 2018 there were 120 attacks on the health care sector committed by all sides of the conflict.
It said the Gulf coalition, its affiliated forces, the Houthis and their allies have all damaged or destroyed health facilities through airstrikes and shelling, occupying medical facilities and excluding civilian use as well as assaulting medical professionals.
On the fifth anniversary of the conflict, Mwatana spokesperson Osamah al-Fakih said it was not just bombing campaigns and artillery fire which had destroyed the country.
“All sides have committed violations including enforced disappearances, torture, as well as child recruitment,” he told The Independent.
“The Gulf coalition has also restricted humanitarian access to Yemen through a blockade and closure of Sanaa international airport."
“It has also established arms groups in different parts of the country, a huge long-term problem, undermining the future of Yemen. “
Human Rights Watch warned the training of proxy groups was behind a new crisis brewing in the east of the country, Mahra, a province which until now has escaped most of the conflict.
In a report on Wednesday it said Saudi military and Yemeni forces it was affiliated to, have carried serious abuses arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, and illegal transfer of detainees to Saudi Arabia.
Former detainees said that they were accused of supporting Saudi Arabia’s opponents and had been interrogated, and tortured at an informal detention facility at the city’s airport.
“Saudi forces and their Yemeni allies’ serious abuses against local-Mahra residents is another horror to add to the list of the Saudi-led coalition’s unlawful conduct in Yemen,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“Saudi Arabia is severely harming its reputation with Yemenis when it carries out these abusive practices and holds no one accountable for them.”