SANAA, Yemen – An airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition on Saturday targeted a funeral hall packed with mourners in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, killing at least 82 people and turning the site into a “lake of blood,” according to a senior Health Ministry official.
Nasser al-Argaly, the Health Ministry’s undersecretary, told a news conference that the strike also left 534 people wounded. The casualty figures were not final, he added.
Yemeni security and medical officials said the dead and wounded include military and security officials from the ranks of the Shiite Houthi rebels fighting the internationally-recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi as well as their allies, loyalists of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Among those killed was Maj-Gen. Abdul-Qader Hilal, head of the capital’s local council, according to the officials. Saturday’s funeral was held for Sheikh Ali al-Rawishan, father of Galal al-Rawishan, the interior minister in the rebel-led government. Galal Al-Rishwan was seriously wounded in the attack.
In the aftermath of the strike, hundreds of body parts were found strewn in and outside the hall. Rescuers collected them in sacks. The strike left the building little more than a shell, with most of its walls and roof gone. Cars parked outside were mangled by the blast.
“The place has been turned into a lake of blood,” said one rescuer, Murad Tawfiq.
Ambulances rushed to the site to ferry the wounded to hospitals. In radio broadcasts, the Health Ministry summoned off-duty doctors and called on residents to donate blood. Rescuers, meanwhile, sifted through the rubble in search of more casualties, but a fire that erupted hindered their work.
Mohammed Abdul-Salam, the Houthis’ spokesman in Sanaa, angrily denounced the airstrike as the latest act of “genocide” by the Saudi-led coalition.
“The silence of the United Nations and the international community is the munition of the murderers,” he said. “Those murderers will not escape divine justice.”
The Saudi-led coalition backs Hadi’s government which, together with its own allies, is fighting the Houthis and Saleh loyalists in a civil war that broke out in 2014.
Roughly 3,799 civilians have been killed since the Saudi-led air campaign began in March of last year, according to a recent report by the U.N.’s human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. The U.N. and rights groups estimate the conflict has claimed the lives of at least 9,000 people and displaced nearly 3 million more in the Arab world’s poorest country.
According to the report, coalition airstrikes were responsible for 60 per cent of civilian deaths over a year-long span starting in July last year. Just under one-quarter — 475 — civilian deaths were attributed to rebel forces like those loyal to Saleh, and another 113 to affiliates of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.