Death toll rises after air strike on Yemen prison

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The death toll from a Saudi-led coalition air strike on a prison run by Yemen’s Houthi rebels has climbed to at least 82 detainees, an aid group has said.

Internet access in the Arab world’s poorest country remains largely down following the air strike in northern Saada province, part of an intense air and ground offensive that marked an escalation in Yemen’s civil war.

The conflict pits the internationally-recognised government, aided by the Saudi-led coalition, against the Iranian-backed rebels.

The escalation comes after the Houthis claimed a drone and missile attack that struck inside the United Arab Emirates’ capital Abu Dhabi earlier in the week.

Air strikes locator graphic
This map locates two Saudi air strikes in Yemen – one striking a prison in the north-west city of Saada and the other in the western port city of Hodeidah, targeting a telecommunications hub (AP)

Ahmed Mahat, the head of Doctors Without Borders, a charity mission in Yemen, told The Associated Press they counted at least 82 dead and more than 265 wounded in the air strike.

The Houthis’ media office said rescuers are still searching for survivors and bodies in the rubble of the prison site in the province of Saada, on the border with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi coalition spokesman Brig Gen Turki al-Malki alleged the Houthis had not reported the site as needing protection from air strikes to the UN or the International Committee of the Red Cross.

He claimed 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, according to the humanitarian organisation Save the Children.

However Mr Mahat, of Doctors Without Borders, said the air strike hit a different part of the facility housing other types of detainees. “The migrants there are safe,” he said.

The Saada attack followed another Saudi-led coalition air strike on Friday at the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah which hit a telecommunications centre 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 Saturday.

The Saada air attack, one of the deadliest of the war, was not the first to hit a Houthi-run prison. In September 2019, an air strike hit a detention centre the southwestern Dhamar province, killing more than 100 people and wounding dozens.

Rights groups have previously documented that the Houthis use civilian detainees as human shields by placing them in detention centres next to military barracks under constant threat of air strikes.

Friday’s air strikes in Saada and Hodeidah have led to renewed criticism of the coalition from the United Nations and international aid and rights groups.

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