Air strike hits hospital in Yemen

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A MEDECINS Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders’ (MSF)-supported hospital has been hit in northern Yemen causing at least four deaths, injuring 10 people and leading to the collapse of several buildings within the medical facility, the charity said on Sunday.

Its press statement continued: ‘Three of the injured are MSF staff, two are in a critical condition. According to our staff on the ground, at 9.20am one projectile impacted the Shiara Hospital in Razeh district, where MSF has been working since November 2015.

‘MSF cannot confirm the origin of the attack, but planes were seen flying over the facility at the time. At least one more projectile fell near the hospital. All staff and patients have now been evacuated with some receiving ongoing care at that Al Goumoury hospital in Saada, also supported by MSF. The numbers of casualties could rise as more people could still be trapped in the rubble.’

Raquel Ayora, MSF Director of Operations, said: ‘All parties to the conflict, including the Saudi led coalition (SLC), are regularly informed of the GPS coordinates of the medical sites where MSF works. We are in constant dialogue with these parties to ensure that they understand the severity of the humanitarian consequences of the conflict and the need to respect the provision of medical services. There is no way that anyone with the capacity to carry out an airstrike or launch a rocket would not have known that the Shiara Hospital was a functioning health facility providing critical services and supported by MSF.’

She stressed: ‘We reiterate to all parties to the conflict that patients and medical facilities must be respected and that bombing hospitals is a violation of International Humanitarian Law.’ MSF noted: ‘The conflict is particularly acute in Razeh District. People living in the area have been severely affected by constant bombings and the cumulative weight of 10 months of war.

‘Shiara Hospital had already been bombed before MSF started supporting it and services were reduced to stabilisation, emergency, maternity and lifesaving activities. This is the third severe incident in a health facility directly managed or supported by MSF in the past three months. On 27 October Haydan hospital was destroyed by an airstrike by the SLC and on 3rd December a mobile clinic in Taiz was also hit by the SLC wounding nine people, one of whom later died.

‘MSF teams struggle on a daily basis to ensure the respect of health facilities by all armed groups. MSF Director of Operations Ayora added: ‘We strongly condemn this incident that confirms a worrying pattern of attacks to essential medical services and express our strongest outrage as this will leave a very fragile population without healthcare for weeks. Once more it is civilians that are bearing the brunt of this war.’

The charity concluded: ‘MSF asks for an immediate end to attacks on medical structures and requests that all parties to the conflict unequivocally commit to supporting the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance.

‘MSF also requests that those responsible for this attack investigate the circumstances of the incident. In Yemen, MSF is working in Aden, Al-Dhale, Taiz, Saada, Amran, Hajjah, Ibb and Sana’a governorates. Since the start of the current crisis in March 2015, MSF teams have treated more than 20,000 war-wounded patients. More than 790 tonnes of medical supplies have been sent by MSF so far.

‘MSF directly manages 11 hospitals and health centres and supports a further 18 health centres. With the healthcare system barely functioning, MSF is also providing non-emergency health services.’ The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in a report last Thursday voiced concerns about attacks targeting hospitals in Yemen.

The ICRC’s outgoing health coordinator in Yemen, Monica Arpagaus, said hospitals are no longer the safe places they used to be as they have been repeatedly targeted by airstrikes. We have incidents where hospitals have been targeted and patients have been injured and staff have been killed,’ Arpagaus stated.

‘Drugs, medication and medical supplies have been prevented from crossing frontlines into hospitals which desperately need these supplies,’ she added. In a separate incident on Sunday, Saudi warplanes bombed a market in the Razeh district of Sa’ada Province, killing at least eight people and injuring some others. The Saudi regime once again used internationally banned cluster bombs in its raids on the Yemeni province of Sa’ada in defiance of global condemnations.

Meanwhile, the Saudi warplanes bombed several residential buildings in Majaz district in the same province, with no immediate reports of possible casualties. It is not the first time that Riyadh’s military resorts to such internationally-banned weapons in its deadly military campaign against Yemen.

On January 8, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over Saudi Arabia’s intensifying airstrikes against civilians in Yemen, warning that Riyadh’s use of cluster bombs in the capital, Sana’a, may amount to a ‘war crime’. Ban made the comments a day after a civilian was killed in a cluster bomb attack in the Yemeni capital.

Human Rights Watch also confirmed the attack, saying it amounted to ‘a war crime’. Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement last week: ‘The inherently indiscriminate nature of cluster munitions makes such attacks serious violations of the laws of war.’

In May 2015, the New York-based human rights body said Saudi warplanes had targeted civilians and residential areas with cluster bombs in the northern province of Sa’ada. Saudi Arabia has started military strikes against Yemen since March 2015, without a UN mandate, in a supposed bid to undermine the Houthi Ansarullah movement and to restore power to fugitive former Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, an ally of Riyadh.

The Saudi war has reportedly killed more than 7,500 people and injured over 14,000 others.

The strikes have also taken a heavy toll on the country’s facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools and factories. The Saudi military has also blocked the flow of relief aid into Yemen, creating an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state.