Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies resumed their deadly campaign of airstrikes in Yemen over the weekend, seemingly the moment UN Envoy to Yemen, Marin Griffiths, departed the embattled country.
HAJJAH, YEMEN — In a remote area in Mustaba, Hajjah, southwestern Yemen, two volunteers push through the rubble of a partially collapsed home hit by an airstrike. Onlookers shield their mouths and noses from the dust and stench of corpses of those who perished beneath. A rescue worker pulls out the skeletons of children and women from under the rubble.
A relentless payload of bombs was dropped on Mustaba in just a few hours on Saturday night, killing six civilians and injuring three. A woman and four children were among the victims of the Saudi airstrikes, which targeted homes in Ram district of the Mustaba region, dozens of kilometers away from the war’s closest frontlines.
Upon the departure of United Nations envoy Martin Griffiths from Yemeni capital Sana’a on Friday, the Saudi-led coalition stepped up its campaign of airstrikes, as warplanes bombed residential areas in Hajjah, Hodeida, Sadaa and Sana’a — carrying out over 120 airstrikes, which resulted in a high number of civilian casualties.
Griffiths was in Sana’a to meet Ansar Allah (Houthi) leader Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi and other high-level officials to discuss the group’s attendance in planned peace talks to be held in Sweden next month. The Houthis have agreed to negotiate a United Nations role in managing the vital port-city of Hodeida.
Ahmed Suheil, an activist who lives in the Mustaba district, said he woke up to the sounds of bombing raids. “At 11 p.m., they attacked a home in our neighboring village four times. It’s far from my house, but it was so horrible to wake up to that sound,” Suheil recounted. “Everything was shaking.”
“They do not respect their covenants” shouts Mohammed Jumaie, who led the village’s emergency response team. “We are in a truce. Why should civilians pay with their lives for this dirty aggression?”
Recovery efforts were slowed by a lack of heavy machinery needed to access the bodies, as locals gathered around the site hoping their loved ones weren’t among the victims. One man could be heard crying: “Please, there are children under the rubble. My brother’s children. Maybe at least just one of them is still alive!”
Twenty kilometers south of the Ram district, more than five civilians lost their lives and four were injured when Saudi jets targeted the Abdo Al-Khamisi station at the entrance of the al-Hijjah Market on Sunday. According to the local residents and the volunteer rescue team who pulled the bodies from under the rubble following the airstrikes, it was clear the men who were killed were civilians and not fighters.
Not simply collateral damage
This is not just the unfortunate collateral damage of war, say human-rights defenders — but an indication that civilians themselves are the targets. Assad al-Sharabi — a Yemeni analyst and author, who supported the Saudi-led coalition upon its inception — agreed that civilians are the focus of these attacks. “Most of the airstrikes have not hit front lines,” he said. “Instead, the air campaign appears focused on residential buildings and markets.”
The Saudi-led coalition and its allies have said repeatedly that they target Houthi military positions, yet international organizations say the spate of airstrikes focus on residential areas where there are no Houthi fighters. “It’s clear these attacks are part of a systematic strategy in order to basically punish civilians,” said Taha Abu Daleb, Head of Legal Center for Rights and Development.
But analysts also see these attacks as an attempt to punish resistance fighters by targeting their communities, hoping to undermine grassroots support they enjoy from local towns and villages that are sympathetic to their cause. On Tuesday, however, millions of Yemenis took the streets in seven provinces, expressing their solidarity with resistance movements led by the Houthis.
Overall, the ongoing Saudi-led military campaign against Yemen has resulted in the deaths of 15,185 civilians, including 3,527 children and 2,277 women, according to the Legal Center for Rights and Development in Yemen, a non-governmental organization that monitors human rights violations immediately after their occurrence.
“Collective punishment” tactic targets Yemeni communities
In Heredia, where residents have been experiencing some of the most terrifying days of the war, airstrikes are ongoing. The besieged city of al-Dreihimi has been hit with over 50 airstrikes in the past four months. And in al Hali district, al Jarahi city, al Tuheita and al Luhyah, the dead are still being counted. Residents and medical sources said dozens of people are missing, presumed to be trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings.
In Sadaa, the Saudi-led coalition launched about 50 airstrikes, targeting the Jabal al-Miftah communications network in Heidan with 10 airstrikes on Monday. The nearby area of Sohar was hit by nine airstrikes on the same day.
Hodeida itself was relatively quiet when UN Envoy Martin Griffith was visiting, but according to the city’s residents, Saudi warplanes didn’t wait long after his departure to target residential areas with airstrikes, including the area of July 7 and al-Luhyah. Hundreds of Saudi coalition missiles and artillery rounds were also reported to have struck the city.
“Despite the announcement of a truce, we stayed in our basement apartment,” said Saeed al- Mahrai, a father of two. “We knew that warplanes would bomb us without warning.” Right on queue, as a muezzin in a nearby mosque called the end of sunset prayers, an airstrike hit the building where Saeed`s family sought shelter. When the dust cleared, Saeed found his brother dead on the front stairs, the building behind him collapsed.
Thirty-five-year-old Hassan, who lives in the residential area of July 7 with his wife and three children, thinks that Saudi Arabia may be using the airstrikes as a form of collective punishment, “to show the Yemeni resistance that this is the result of not bowing to [Saudi] demands.”
The official spokesman of the Houthis, Mohammed AbdulSalam, said on Sunday that the increase and extent of Saudi-led attacks on Hodeida have exposed the main motives of the Riyadh regime and its regional allies, warning that the process will only destroy the peace efforts of the UN special envoy to Yemen. The uptick in Saudi-led coalition attacks on Hodeida and other provinces may eventually frustrate efforts by Griffiths to rekindle peace talks in Sweden next month.
Some analysts emphasized the potential symbolism of the recent airstrikes against Sadaa: “If Saudi Arabia wants to strike against the stronghold of the Houthis and show them the costs of facing the coalition in Yemen,” says Yemeni journalist Mohammed al Hassani, “it makes sense because in striking these areas, they strike the symbols of the Yemen resistance.”
Yemeni forces resume retaliatory attacks
“The Houthis have no right to suspend the use of ballistic missiles and drones” al-Mahrai muttered angrily. “Those missiles and air force are our only hope to deter this barbaric aggression that is killing us.” Al-Mahrai is one of the thousands of Yemenis who criticized a recent initiative announced by Houthi leader Mohammed Ali al Houthi to stop retaliatory attacks against Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies.
The initiative was canceled on Sunday as a result of the stepped-up Saudi airstrikes. Yemen’s Army, supported by the Houthis, announced the resumption of the ballistic missile and drone attacks against Saudi-led coalition forces that had been suspended last week as a goodwill measure to “speed up” the peace process.
The Saudi-led coalition has killed tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians since 2015 when the war began. Moreover, the coalition’s blockade of food and medicine has plagued the country with an unprecedented famine and triggered a deadly outbreak of preventable disease that has cost thousands their lives.
A high-ranking source in Yemen’s military, loyal to the Houthis, told MintPress that ballistic missile and drones attacks will escalate in coming days and vital facilities in UAE and Saudi Arabia — including royal palaces inside Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai — will be targeted.”
On Sunday, Yemeni army forces hit a military base in Saudi Arabia’s Asir region with a high-precision ballistic missile dubbed the “Badr P-1.” The domestically-designed, short-range ballistic missile uses a solid-propellant, an upgrade of its previous iteration, the “Badr-1.”
A military source who spoke on condition of anonymity told MintPress that the projectile struck its designated target with precision, leaving an unspecified number of Saudi soldiers killed or wounded. The explosion also inflicted damage to equipment on the base.
The Yemeni army also struck a gathering of Saudi mercenaries in Nihm district in Yemen’s west-central province of Sana’a with a Badr P-1 missile on Sunday, reportedly inflicting casualties and causing material damage to the military site.
An unmanned long-range drone dubbed the Sammad 3 (Invincible-3) also targeted the al-Mas military base in Mareb province east of Sana’a on Sunday. A military source confirmed to MintPress that the strikes caused multiple casualties, killing Saudi, UAE, and mercenary forces, including military officers.
The new drone is named after the late president of the Supreme Political Council, Saleh Ali al-Sammad, who was assassinated in a Saudi-led coalition drone strike in Hodeida on April 23, 2018. Sammad was chosen by the only parliament actively operating in Yemen.
Top Photo | A victim of a Saudi airstrike on the Ram district of the Mustaba region in Hajjah, Yemen, Nov. 25, 2018. Gebran Suhail
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.