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Airstrike in Yemen Kills 17 Civilians, Witnesses Say

CAIRO — An airstrike on a residential area near the Yemeni capital, Sana, on Tuesday killed 17 civilians, most of them women and children, as international criticism continued to build over a deadly bombing the day before of a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders.

Residents of a village in Nehem District, northeast of the capital, said that warplanes from the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition fighting on behalf of the Yemeni government had bombed a family home. Health officials in Sana confirmed that 17 bodies had been taken to local hospitals after the airstrike.

Shayef Muhsin Asem, who lived in the house but was out at the time of the attack, said that after the house was bombed, family members rushed in to try to rescue survivors when a second airstrike hit.

The attack on Tuesday took place in the village of Al Madeed, where a marketplace was struck on Aug. 7, killing 18 civilians, according to witnesses and health workers.

The Saudi-led military coalition did not issue a statement about the airstrike on Tuesday. The coalition, fighting in support of the government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi against Houthi militias, has stepped up its bombing campaign in recent weeks. On Monday, at least 15 people were killed in Hajjah Province, in northern Yemen, when warplanes bombed a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders.

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, condemned the airstrike on the hospital and said he was “deeply disturbed by the intensification of airstrikes and continuing ground fighting and shelling” in Yemen, according to his spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric.

Separately, the World Health Organization — which had built the emergency wing of the Abs Hospital, destroyed in Monday’s airstrike — called on “all parties to protect health workers and facilities,” according to the agency’s spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic.

The Saudi-led military coalition asked its Joint Incidents Assessment Team on Tuesday to investigate the hospital bombing, said Mohammed Qubaty, the minister of information in Yemen’s Western-backed government.

The assessment team is ostensibly independent, but its members are from countries in the 12-nation coalition.

Abs Hospital was the fourth Doctors Without Borders facility in Yemen to be bombed in the 17-month war, and Mr. Ban said 70 health centers had been damaged or destroyed by one side or the other.

Teresa Sancristóval, an emergency program manager for the group, said that after each attack, the agency “receives reassurances from the actors in the conflict with promises that this will not happen again.”

She said that the agency had shared information about its centers with all parties in the Yemen conflict, but that this had done little to stop the bombings.

“This new incident shows that there are no effective measures in place to ensure that hospitals are not another casualty of war,” Ms. Sancristóval added.

There were differing reports of the death toll in Monday’s hospital bombing: The provincial health director, Ayman Ahmed Mathkoor, said 18 had died; Doctors Without Borders put the number at 14.

Mr. Qubaty, the information minister, said he could not comment on what happened to the hospital. “We are waiting for the results of the investigation,” he said. “In an area where fighting is still going on, to get all the facts usually takes time.”

Abs Hospital and local health officials said there was no military presence in or around the hospital.

Maj. Gen. Ahmed Asseri, the spokesman for the coalition, said investigators from the assessment team would be talking to Doctors Without Borders officials about Monday’s episode. “For the time being, we cannot call it bombing of a hospital,” General Asseri said.

Saudi officials insist that they have struck only at military targets, and accuse the Houthis of using civilian facilities to carry out attacks against the government and its coalition partners.

By way of example, General Asseri said a school that was reportedly hit last Saturday, killing 10 students in the town of Haydan in Saada Province, was actually a Houthi militia training facility. “Definitely it is not a school; it is a camp where they train their fighters,” he said.

Unicef officials in Yemen, however, concluded in an investigation that most of those killed were 6 to 8 years old.

The government also said Tuesday that its forces had succeeded in routing Al Qaeda militants from Abyan Province. The group had a number of strongholds near the southern capital of Aden, where the government has been based since it was driven from Sana by the Houthis.

Earlier this month, government forces claimed to have expelled Qaeda fighters from Shabwa Province, and the extremists fled the southern coastal provinces of Hadramout and Lahj in the spring.

The southern coastal provinces are important because they have the bulk of Yemen’s exportable oil and gas reserves, which were shut down by the presence of Al Qaeda.

“All oil-exporting facilities are under the control of the government now,” Mr. Qubaty said. He predicted that the government would be exporting oil within a few weeks and natural gas within months.

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(via NY Times)