AFRICAN PERSPECTIVES

US-BACKED SAUDI AIRSTRIKE KILLS 42 SOMALI REFUGEES FLEEING YEMEN

March 18, 2017 | Uhuruspirit

A picture taken on March 17, 2017, shows bodies of people who were killed





A Saudi government Apache helicopter attacked a boat packed with Somali refugees off the coast of Yemen on Friday, killing at least 42 people, the Associated Press reports.

Ibrahim Ali Zeyad, a sailor who operated the boat, said 80 refugees were rescued after the incident, Middle East Eye reports. Most of them are in extremely critical condition and have been rushed to nearby hospitals.

The Apache helicopter, supplied to Saudi Arabia by the United States, targeted refugees on their way from Yemen to Sudan. The attack was among the deadliest throughout the violent Saudi-led, U.S.-backed military campaign against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen that began in 2015.

“We are appalled by this tragic incident, the latest in which civilians continue to disproportionately bear the brunt of conflict in Yemen,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Yemen said in a statement.

“As conditions in Yemen further deteriorate as a result of ongoing conflict, refugees and asylum seekers are increasingly resorting to move onwards from Yemen further north, taking well-established migratory routes.”

Saudi spokesperson General Ahmed al-Asseri justified the attack by claiming the area, Hudaida, is “illegally” under the control of the rebels. He claimed they are using the port city for “trafficking people, smuggling weapons and attacks against the line of communications in the Red Sea.”

Houthi rebels, however, claim the Saudi’s attacked them because of the Shiite movement’s growing political influence in the region. Both Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have accused the rebels of “terrorism” and “collaboration” with the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran. Saudi Arabia, a country governed by radical Wahhabi Sunnis, has been at odds with Shiites and Iran for decades.

In 2015, jets from the Saudi-ed, U.S.-backed coalition struck Yemen's Red Sea port of Hodeida, which led over a 100 Yemenis dead. The attack left schools, hospitals and warehouses in Hodeida obliterated.

“In response to a massive uprising demanding democracy and self-determination in Yemen, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has unleashed a horrific bombing campaign,” Caleb Maupin, an American journalist and activist who brought supplies to Yemen after the Hodeida bombing, said in 2015 when the military campaign began.

“As a citizen of the United States, nothing disturbs me more than the fact that the cruise missiles and other weapons being used to terrorize and kill innocent Yemenis, are provided by my own government.”

The U.S. government has not commented on its complicity in the recent Saudi airstrike.

Shabia Mantoo, the UNHCR spokeswoman in Yemen, confirmed that a number of refugees were killed.

"We are distressed by this incident and understand that refugees were traveling in a vessel off the coast of Hodeidah which was reportedly impacted during the course of hostilities," she said.

A sailor who had been operating the boat, Ibrahim Ali Zeyad, said 80 refugees had been rescued.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the number of dead may be more than 31.

"We just got information of a helicopter assault on a boat leaving Yemen, we believe for Sudan, full of Somalis," spokesman Joel Millman told a news briefing in Geneva.

He said the IOM was aware of 80 survivors brought to hospitals in Hodeidah.

ICRC's Eric Christopher Wyss said: "It was a heartbreaking scene. I saw many men, women and children either killed or horribly wounded."

- with Telesur



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