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17.10 25 Apr 2018


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Details have been released of the horror faced by doctors in a rural Yemeni hospital after air strikes killed scores of civilians attending a wedding.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has warned that the attacks, launched by a Western-backed military coalition of Arab nations are a “serious violation of international humanitarian law.”

Death tolls ranging from 33 to 88 have been reported following the attack on the wedding in what doctors describe as a “remote, impoverished village in the Bani Qays district in Yemen on Sunday.

MSF said it received 63 casualties at a hospital it supports in the northern province of Hajja.

"Attacks on civilians are a serious violation of international humanitarian law.” said João Martins, MSF head of mission in Yemen.

“What happened in Bani Qays is appalling.

“Among the 63 wounded our teams have treated, 13 are children.

“These people arrived at the hospital in garlands traditionally worn to celebrate marriage - None were armed or arrived in military uniform."

Civil war

Fighting between Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and the ousted Yemeni government – supported by a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states – has been ongoing in the region for three years.

The US has been supporting the Saudi coalition with arms sales, intelligence and military support.

The UK meanwhile, has been labelled “one of the principal backers” of the war due to its ongoing arms sales and military support for Saudi Arabia.

On Sunday, a spokesman for the coalition said it was taking the reports “very seriously,” adding that it would investigate what happened.

Civilians

In the hours after the attack, the head of the Al Jumhouri hospital in Hajjah said the hospital received 40 bodies, “most of them torn to pieces.”

Khaled al-Nadhri, the top health official in the northern province of Hajja, told The Associated Press that the bride was killed in the strike, with many women and children among the dead.

In a statement, MSF said many of the wounded were initially carried away from the scene by donkeys, as the only two cars in the village were damaged in the strikes.

Emergency services were severely delayed in attending the scene as warplanes continued to circle overhead – raising fears of further strikes.

Witnesses

12-year-old Kamal told the medical charity that he collapsed as the bombs started to fall.

“When I woke up, I saw people running away from the tent,” he said.

“I had been inside with my brother and the groom is my friend. One of my cousins died in this attack.”

A man named Darees, who had left the wedding minutes before the attack described chaotic scenes as he returned - with dismembered bodies on the ground and children frantically searching for their parents.

"Some of the dead bodies were children,” he said. “Children were playing outside while their parents attended the wedding inside the tent. That's when the attack happened."

Casualties

Doctors at Hajjah hospital said the injured has mainly lost limbs and suffered shrapnel wounds.

Residents of Hajjah city flocked to the hospital to donate blood with 150 bags collected in two hours.

"One woman arrived at the hospital in panic, searching for her son,” said Sally Thomas, MSF project coordinator in Hajjah.

“He was attending the wedding and she doesn't know what happened to him.

“Many other women and children in the village are traumatised and don't know what happened to their loved ones.”

War crimes

Mr Martins said the rules of war have been “constantly violated” in Yemen.

"Warring parties to the conflict must respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution,” he said. “It is prohibited to launch such attacks which may be expected to harm civilians.”

The ongoing war in Yemen has driven the country to the brink of famine with some 22 million people in need of humanitarian aid.

Mr Martin called on all sides in the conflict to “commit to protecting civilians” and urged “all parties fueling the conflict by selling arms" to ensure that international laws established to protect civilians are respected.

MSG is on the ground in 13 hospitals across Yemen and provides support to more than 20 hospitals or health centres in the country.


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