CAIRO. Airstrikes by the Saudi-led military coalition in northern Yemen on Friday killed at least 70 people in prison and shut down internet throughout the country in a new escalation in the conflict, according to a government official, international aid groups and rebels who control the area.
In the northern city of Saada, close to the Saudi Arabian border, the Republican Hospital has taken in about 70 dead and 138 wounded and can’t take any more, said Ahmed Mahat, head of the MSF mission in Yemen. According to Médecins Sans Frontières, two other hospitals in the city have been overwhelmed by a growing number of injured patients, even as medical supplies have dwindled.
“There are still many bodies at the site of the airstrike, many missing,” Mr. Mahat said in a statement, referring to a colleague from Médecins Sans Frontières in Saada. “It is impossible to know how many people were killed. It looks like it was a terrible act of violence.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross said more than 100 people were killed or injured overnight at a temporary detention center in Saada.
The Red Cross said that during the day, rescuers were still combing the collapsed building in search of victims. A video broadcast on the pro-Iranian news channel Al Mayadeen showed rescuers trying to move rubble in place to free people caught in the rubble.
Local media outlets linked to the Houthis, the Iranian-backed rebel group that dominates northern Yemen, blamed the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting the Houthis for years. While aid teams have been more cautious in assigning responsibility, the Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly bombed Houthi forces and territory, including civilian targets, throughout the war and has stepped up its attacks over the past week.
Fighting in Yemen has intensified over the past week after the Houthis attacked a major airport in the United Arab Emirates – Saudi Arabia’s main coalition partner – on Monday with drones and missiles, killing three people and injuring six in what they say was retaliatory strike. for supporting the UAE’s pro-government militias.
Armed and trained by the UAE, these militias recently liberated Shabwa province from Houthi control and encroached on Houthi gains in the oil-rich Marib province.
Another coalition air strike early Friday hit a telecommunications hub in the port city of Al Hudaydah, severely damaging key internet infrastructure and putting Yemen in an internet blackout, a spokesman for the Ministry of Communications in Hadramawt province said, who asked not to be named because he not authorized to report the incident.
According to NetBlocks, an Internet monitoring group, the country’s internet connection went down at around 1 a.m. on Friday, and service had not resumed by Friday evening.
The Saudi-led coalition responded to Houthi attacks on the UAE by striking the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa on Monday evening, killing at least 20 people, according to the Houthis, including the family of a Houthi military general. On Friday, Mr. Mahat said the latest airstrikes had also hit Sana’a and its airport, and that the aid team had received numerous reports of nighttime airstrikes elsewhere in northern Yemen.
But none of them were as deadly as the attack on the prison in Saada. No other casualties were immediately reported, but in addition to Yemenis, the Houthis also regularly detain African migrants who try to cross Yemen on their way to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states in search of work.
A Saudi-led coalition began bombing Yemen in 2015 in an attempt to drive out the Houthis, who had seized the capital, forcing the Saudi-backed government to flee. Now divided between Houthi control in the north and Saudi-backed government control in the south, Yemen has become the site of what aid groups call the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
Saeed al-Batati provided reporting from Al-Mukalla, Yemen, and Hwayda Saad from Beirut, Lebanon.