The death toll from an airstrike by Saudi Arabian-led coalition forces that hit a prison run by Yemen’s Houthi rebels climbed to at least 82 detainees, the rebels and an aid group said yesterday.
Internet access in the Arab world’s poorest country remained largely down.
The airstrike in northern Saada Governorate on Friday was part of an intense air and ground offensive that marked an escalation in the years-long civil war. The conflict pits the internationally recognized Yemeni government, aided by the Riyadh-led coalition, against the Iranian-backed rebels.
The escalation comes after the Houthis claimed a drone and missile attack that struck the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) capital earlier in the week.
It also comes as government forces, aided by UAE-backed troops and airstrikes from the coalition, have reclaimed the entire Shabwa Governorate from the rebels and pressured them in the central governorate of Marib.
Houthis forces there have for a year attempted to take control of its provincial capital.
Ahmed Mahat, who heads Doctors Without Borders’ Yemen mission, told The Associated Press that his team counted at least 82 dead and more than 265 injured in the airstrike.
The Houthis’ media office said that rescuers were still searching for survivors and bodies in the rubble of the prison site on the border with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabian military spokesman Turki al-Malki said that the rebels had not reported the site as needing protection from airstrikes to the UN or the International Committee of the Red Cross.
He said that the Houthis’ failure to do so represented the militia’s “usual deceptive approach” in the conflict.
The Houthis used the prison complex to hold detained migrants, mostly Africans attempting to cross through the war-torn country into Saudi Arabia, humanitarian organization Save the Children said.
However, Mahat said the airstrike hit a different part of the facility housing other types of detainees.
“The migrants there are safe,” he said.
The attack followed another coalition airstrike on Friday at the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, which hit a telecommunications center key to Yemen’s connection to the Internet.
Access to the Internet has remained “largely down for more than 24 hours” in the country, advocacy group NetBlocks.org said yesterday.
The Saada attack, one of the deadliest of the war, was not the first to hit a Houthi-run prison. In 2019, an airstrike hit a detention center in southwestern Dhamar Governorate, killing more than 100 people and injuring dozens.
Rights groups have documented that the Houthis used civilian detainees as human shields by placing them in detention centers next to military barracks under constant threat of airstrikes.
Friday’s airstrikes in Saada and Hodeida have renewed criticism of the coalition from the UN, and international aid and rights groups.
Coalition airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties, killing thousands of civilians.
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