Aid group makes dramatic plea, day after 65 killed in Yemen

AP News
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Posted: Aug 21, 2015 6:53 PM
Aid group makes dramatic plea, day after 65 killed in Yemen

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — A leading international aid group on Friday made a dramatic appeal to Yemen's warring factions to halt attacks on civilians, a day after heavy fighting in a key city killed more than 65 people and wounded at least 23.

Doctors Without Borders also said it was unable to reach the hospitals in Taiz, Yemen's third largest city, where fighting intensified on Thursday.

"We call on the warring parties to stop attacking civilian targets, especially hospitals, ambulances and densely populated neighborhoods and allow medical personnel and humanitarian organizations to provide assistance," the aid group, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres or MSF, said in a statement.

Yemeni security officials said the violence in Taiz began with Shiite rebels, also known as Houthis, first shelling residential areas and killing 23 civilians. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

The shelling provoked airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, which has been targeting the Houthis since March, when Yemen's crisis escalated amid the rebel advance and land grab.

The subsequent airstrikes killed at least 35 people and demolished five houses in the eastern neighborhood of Sala, from where the rebels launched their attacks earlier Thursday, the officials added.

Among those killed, at least 17 were children and 20 were women, according to Doctors Without Borders, which added that more than 65 people were killed in Taiz on Thursday.

The survivors, the group reported, were left "searching through the rubble with their bare hands" in the hope of finding victims buried underneath.

"It was a hellish night," said Taiz resident Omar Karim, who could not sleep from the sound of the shelling as he and his family cowered in their basement for shelter.

"Patients and MSF staff are unable to reach hospitals due to the heavy fighting and airstrikes," the aid group said in a statement, adding that 923 people have been wounded over the past three days, and that 133 of them died due to their severe injuries.

Only seven of Taiz's 21 hospitals are currently open but they are "totally overwhelmed" and have run out of essential medication, MSF said.

Yemen's fighting pits the Houthis and troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants and troops loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, which are backed by a Saudi-led coalition.

The U.N. says health facilities in Yemen have reported more than 4,000 conflict-related deaths since March.

Later Friday, the official Saudi press agency said an Apache attack helicopter from the coalition fighting the rebels went down in the southern province of Jizan, killing two Saudi pilots while "defending the borders of the Kingdom." Investigations are underway, it said.

Meanwhile, in the port city of Aden, witnesses on the Gold Mohur beach said a masked group of armed men led six men in orange jumpsuits with their hands tied behind their backs onto a boat on Wednesday. The booby-trapped boat, they said, was dragged out to sea by another boat, before it was detonated remotely.

The explosion killed the six captives, whose identities were not known, said the witnesses, speaking on condition of anonymity fearing for their own safety.

No group claimed responsibility for the killings but Islamic State-affiliated militants have carried out such slayings in the past.

Also Wednesday, Islamic State-affiliated militants claimed an attack that killed a Yemeni soldier at a checkpoint in Hadramawt province. The Associated Press could not independently verify the claim, which was posted by IS sympathizers on Twitter Thursday.