SANAA, Yemen – Dozens of civilians, Most children were imprisoned in an air raid on Thursday by US allies in a bus in a crowded market North Yemen killed or injured, according to health officials and international aid organizations.
In a tweet, the International Committee of the Red Cross said that the attack targeted a bus with children in the Dahyan market in Saada province, which borders Saudi Arabia. A supported by the auxiliary group hospital has received "dozens of dead and wounded," they say. "Under international humanitarian law, civilians must be protected during a conflict."
"Body parts were scattered all over the area, and the sounds of groaning and crying were everywhere," said Hassan Muwlef, senior director of the Red Crescent Office in Saada, who arrived one hour after the attack on Thursday morning. "The school bus was totally burned and destroyed."
The bodies were burned beyond recognition, while many of the injured were riddled with shrapnel, he added.
Most of the children were under the age of 10, twinned Johannes Bruwer, the ICRC Head of Delegation in Yemen
The attack was the recent air strike on civilians led by a US-backed regional coalition led by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates was completed. The coalition entered the Yemeni civil war more than three years ago to fight the northern Houthi rebels who had taken power from the internationally recognized Yemeni government. The conflict has also turned into a proxy war over regional domination between the Sunni Muslim coalition and the Iranian Shiite theocracy, which is widely believed to support the rebels.
Aid organizations demanded on Thursday an independent and thorough investigation into the air strike and other recent attacks on civilians.
"We have seen a disturbing increase in these incidents, and no action has been taken to bring the perpetrators to justice," said Save the Children relief group in a statement. Sylvia Ghaly, Yemen's group advocacy officer, said Thursday's attack is "another example of the blatant violations of international humanitarian law that we saw in Yemen over the last three years."
"It is the people of Yemen who are the warring parties who pay the ultimate price," she said.
According to the UN Human Rights Bureau, more than 16,000 civilians have been killed or injured since the beginning of the war, the vast majority by air strikes.
Yusuf Alhadheri, a spokesman for the rebels' health ministry, said the death toll had risen to 47 by the afternoon. With more than 63 injured, some in critical condition, death toll is expected to increase, he added. The ICRC reported that it was about sending more medical care and other help to the hospital.
The bus carried about 60 students between the ages of 8 and 14, as well as teachers, said Alhadheri. The group, which was part of a summer camp, was on its way to visit a mosque in the center of the province, a three-decade long tradition to celebrate the end of the summer vacation, he said. The air raid happened around 9:00 am as the bus approached the market, he said.
In a statement, the coalition led by Saudi Arabia said the strike was a "legitimate military action to attack elements planned and executed." Targeted civilians in Jizan, a border town in southwestern Saudi Arabia
Wednesday Colonel Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said the air defense of the kingdom intercepted a ballistic missile fired by the Houthi rebels in a densely populated civilian area in Jizan, according to the Saudi Press Agency. The alleged attack killed a Yemeni resident and injured 11 civilians, Maliki said.
But others denied that the area of Thursday's attack was a military threat.
"I'm really shocked because there is no military base or troops in this area," said Muwlef, the director of the Red Crescent. "Why should you do such an action?"
The United States is helping the coalition, the only party in the conflict, to use combat aircraft, refueling, intelligence, and billions in arms sales. The coalition uses mostly US and British fighter aircraft. Washington Post human rights groups and journalists have seen remnants of US-made bombs at attack sites where civilians were hit. US aid has been severely criticized by some members of Congress and the international community as civilian casualties continue to increase, even if the coalition promises not to attack civilians.
Last week, Yemeni rebel health officials accused the coalition of launching airstrikes in the rebel-held port city of Hodeida, killing at least 28 people and injuring points. But Maliki denied this and told a Saudi television station that the coalition was "following a strict and transparent approach based on the rules of international law."
Hodeida has been besieged since June despite UN peace efforts. The coalition is trying to push the Houthis out of the strategic city, whose port is an important gateway to supplies that strengthen the rebels' ability to rule the capital, Sana'a, and the north.
Hodeida is also an important starting point for food, medicines and other supplies for more than 22 million Yemenis – three quarters of the population – who need help, which the United Nations calls the world's most severe humanitarian crisis.
Mohammed Ali Ganesh, 52, drove all day Thursday from the capital to Saada. Three of his sons were injured in the air raid. The two older ones had shrapnel wounds, but the youngest, Yahya, was treated in the intensive care unit for head, face and lung injuries.
"I do not know if he will make it," Ganesh said, his voice stifling audibly on the phone. "When I visited him, he did not recognize me."
"What did these innocent children do to face such fate and punishment?"
reported Raghavan from Cairo. Kareem Fahim in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia contributed to this report.