FOLLOWING the 15th August aerial bombing of Abs Hospital in Yemen’s Hajjah Governorate, which killed 19 people and injured 24, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has decided to evacuate its staff from the hospitals it supports in Saada and Hajjah governorates in Northern Yemen.
Concretely these are Haydan, Razeh, Al Gamouri, Yasnim hospitals in Saada and Abs and Al Gamouri hospitals in Hajjah. MSF said: ‘The attack on Abs hospital is the fourth and deadliest on any MSF-supported facility during this war and here have been countless attacks on other health facilities and services all over Yemen.’
GPS coordinates shared with all parties
It continued: ‘Since the suspension of the peace talks between the Saudi-led coalition (SLC) and the Houthi forces in Kuwait 11 days ago, the SLC has resumed an intensified campaign in north Yemen. Over the last 8 months, MSF has met with high ranking SLC officials on two occasions in Riyadh to secure humanitarian and medical assistance for Yemenis, as well as to seek assurances that attacks on hospitals would end.
‘Aerial bombings have however continued, despite the fact that MSF has systematically shared the GPS coordinates of hospitals in which we work with the parties involved in the conflict. Coalition officials repeatedly state that they honour international humanitarian law, yet this attack shows a failure to control the use of force and to avoid attacks on hospitals full of patients. MSF is neither satisfied nor reassured by the Saudi-led coalition’s statement that this attack was a mistake.’
Unsafe for patients and staff
MSF stressed: ‘Given the intensity of the current offensive and our loss of confidence in the Coalition’s ability to avoid such fatal attacks, MSF considers that the hospitals in Saada and Hajjah governorates are unsafe for both patients and staff. The decision to evacuate the staff, which include obstetricians, paediatricians, surgeons and emergency room specialists, from a project is never taken lightly.
‘But in the absence of credible assurances that parties to a conflict will respect the protected status of medical facilities, medical workers, and patients, there may be no other options. This is the case in Hajjah and in Saada governorate based on recent events. While an independent investigation remains necessary, we must highlight that previous military coalition investigations related to MSF facilities have not been shared with us.’
Joan Tubau, the General Director of MSF, said: ‘This latest incident shows that the current rules of engagement, military protocols and procedures are inadequate in avoiding attacks on hospitals, and need revision and changes.
‘MSF asks the Saudi-led Coalition and the Governments supporting the Coalition, particularly US, UK and France, to ensure an immediate application of measures geared to substantially increasing the protection of civilians.’
The health charity added: ‘The hospitals that MSF supports in Saada, Haydan, Razeh, Abs, Yasnim, and Hajjah will continue to operate with the staff from the Ministry of Health (MoH) and volunteers. These hospitals are already struggling to keep up with the medical needs caused by the renewed bombing campaigns and the acute needs created or exacerbated by the numerous shortages Yemenis are trying to endure.
‘MSF asks all parties to ensure the safety of these hospitals and to allow them continue to provide medical care with neutrality and impartiality. MSF deeply regrets the consequences of this evacuation for our patients and our MoH Yemeni medical colleagues who will continue to work in the health facilities under unsafe conditions.’
MSF continued: ‘We hope that the security situation will improve so that the population will have some respite and MSF teams will be able to return to providing the much needed medical care. MSF regrets the collective failure to protect the Yemeni civilians from military action and also the failure to help them with adequate humanitarian response.
‘MSF wants to once again offer its most sincere condolences to the families of our staff and the patients that died during the attack. That medical staff and sick and injured people are killed inside a hospital speaks of the cruelty and inhumanity of this war.’
Before this evacuation, MSF was active in 11 hospitals and health centres in Yemen, and providing support to another 18 hospitals or health centres in eight governorates: Aden, Al-Dhale’, Taiz, Saada, Amran, Hajjah, Ibb and Sana’a. More than 2,000 MSF staff are currently working in Yemen, including 90 international staff. The Saudi-led troops’ central command expressed ‘deep regret’ over the MSF’s decision and said it was trying to set up ‘urgent meetings’ with the medical aid group.
Yemen has been under Saudi military strikes since late March 2015. The war was launched in a bid to undermine the Houthi Ansarullah movement and to reinstate Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who stepped down as Yemen’s president but is now seeking to grab power by force.
The aerial campaign, carried out without any international mandate, has killed about 10,000 people, most of them civilians, according to local Yemeni sources. Yemen’s Ansarullah Houthi fighters and allied army units have cut off the main supply route used by invading Saudi Arabian forces between the Aden and Ta’izz provinces in the impoverished country’s southwest.
Yemen’s al-Masirah television reported the development on Friday, saying that the pathway had been used as the main channel by the invaders to procure arms and ammunition. Separately, in west-central Yemen, the Yemeni forces recaptured the areas that had been seized by Saudi mercenaries in the Ma’rib Province.
Locals meanwhile, reported that a Bahraini trooper fighting alongside the Saudi forces had been killed during border clashes between the Yemeni forces and the Saudi military in north western Yemen. The soldier has been identified as Issa Abdullah Badr Aid.
Also on Thursday, two Saudi unmanned aerial vehicles went down in the Nihm district of the Sana’a province, similarly located in west central Yemen, and the Sa’ada province in the country’s extreme north west.
According to Saudi media, a rocket launched by Yemeni forces, backed by Houthi fighters, hit an industrial zone in Najran on Tuesday, killing four Saudis and three foreigners. The nationality of the foreigners was not immediately available.
Such attacks are part of a drive by Houthis and their allies to avenge more than 15 months of military aggression by Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Saudi jets pounded residential buildings in Bani al-Harith district north of the Yemeni capital Sana’a, leaving two women and two children dead.
Seventeen people were also injured in the Saudi airstrikes against Bani al-Harith.
The incident came just one day after a Saudi airstrike hit the hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the same province, killing at least 25 people.