Saudi Arabia yesterday admitted killing civilians in Yemen for the second time this month, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported. The killings were made in an attack on 23 August on a vehicle in southern Hudaydah, killing some 26 women and children.
“According to the results of the comprehensive review… there might have been collateral damage and civilian casualties,” Colonel Turki Al-Maliki said in a statement carried by the official SPA.
“All documents relating to this incident have been handed over to the Joint Incidents Assessment Team [JIAT] pending assessment and announcement of results,” he added, without elaborating on what they might be.
Last Saturday, the Saudis admitted executing a raid on 9 August killing some 51 people including 40 children in northern Yemen, Saada.
Alistair Burt, the UK’s minister of state for the Middle East at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, told the Guardian that Saudi Arabia’s admission is “almost unparalleled in terms of admitting error and pointing out where that error was. I think that the hand of the United Kingdom can be seen in the work that we have done with the coalition over time in order to ensure that should things go wrong, there is proper accountability.”
The ongoing conflict in Yemen escalated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and its Sunni-Arab allies, including the United Arab Emirates, launched a massive air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi gains. The group had taken control of the capital, Sanaa, and large swathes of the country forcing the internationally-backed government into exile.
Saudi Arabia’s assessment over controversial air strikes in Yemen comes following warnings made by the United States that it would reduce military and intelligence support if the Saudis fail to demonstrate an attempt at lowering civilian casualties.
US concerns were raised following a catastrophic strike on a school bus that killed 40 children last month. Experts have said the bomb used in the attack was sold to Saudi as part of a US State Department-sanctioned arms deal.
Late last month, an expert UN panel said air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition in the war in Yemen have caused heavy civilian casualties and some may amount to war crimes.
UN-mediated Yemen peace talks have hung in the balance as the government delegation warned that it would leave today if representatives of the Houthi group do not show up. But yesterday, Mohamed Abdul Salam, chief of the Houthi delegation to Geneva, said on messaging service Telegram that “the US-backed Saudi coalition is placing obstacles to prevent the national delegation from participating in the Geneva consultations”.
Adding, “these obstacles come after the coalition tried to push us toward refusing to participate in the peace talks through military escalation” on the ground.
“Our permanent choice is peace under a unified and sovereign Yemen.”