Saudi Coalition Attack on Yemen Funeral Based on Bad Information: Investigation

The feet of a man injured during Saturday's apparent Saudi-led air strike on a community hall, are seen while he lays on a hospital bed in the capital Sanaa, Yemen, October 13, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

RIYADH, Oct 15 – The Saudi-led coalition attacked a funeral in Yemen after receiving incorrect information that armed Houthi leaders were in the area, an investigative body set up by the coalition said on Saturday.

The Saudi-led campaign in Yemen has come under severe criticism since last Saturday’s air strike hit the funeral gathering in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, killing 140 people according to one U.N. estimate and 82 according to the Houthis.

Mourners killed in the attack included some of Yemen‘s top political and security officials, outraging Yemeni society and potentially galvanising powerful tribes to join the Houthis in opposing a Saudi-backed exiled government.

“A party affiliated to the Yemeni Presidency of the General Chief of Staff wrongly passed information that there was a gathering of armed Houthi leaders in a known location in Sanaa, and insisted that the location be targeted immediately,” the investigators concluded, according to a statement.

The Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) said in the statement that the coalition’s Air Operations Centre in Yemen also failed to obtain approval for the strike from commanders, a violation of protocol.

The JIAT called for a review of the rules of engagement, and for compensation for the families of the victims. It also said “appropriate action” should be taken against those who caused the incident, without elaborating.

After the strike, the White House announced an immediate review of Washington’s support for the 18-month-old military push against the Iran-backed Houthis.

Senior U.S. officials later said the attack had killed senior figures who were important to the reconciliation process.

The strike has also threatened to escalate Yemen‘s civil war and pull the United States further into a conflict from which it has sought to distance itself.

The Houthis responded by launching missiles into Saudi Arabia and possibly on a U.S. warship stationed off the Yemeni coast, prompting U.S. retaliatory strikes against what Washington said were Houthi radar sites.

The Houthis have denied firing missiles at the U.S. Navy destroyer.

Sources in the coalition initially denied any role in the funeral attack, but Saudi Arabia later promised to investigate the “regrettable and painful” incident.

The JIAT statement said investigators were still assessing whether casualty counts were accurate and that there were reports that the number of victims had been inflated.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman set up the JIAT in May following an international outcry over the rising number of civilian casualties in Yemen.

The United Nations estimates that 10,000 people have been killed in the war and blames coalition air strikes for 60 percent of some 3,800 civilian deaths since the attacks began in March 2015.

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