The United Nations’ expert on internally displaced people accused Saudi Arabia on Wednesday of intentionally bombing a camp for people who’d fled Yemen’s violence last week and said airstrikes also had hit hospitals, schools and “other civilian buildings.”
Chaloka Beyani, the U.N.’s rapporteur for internally displaced persons, said at least 25 people had been killed when Saudi aircraft bombed the al Mazraq camp in northern Yemen on March 30, and that another 37, including 12 children, had been injured. He called the attack “a grave violation against some of the most vulnerable of the vulnerable civilians.”
Beyani’s denunciation of the Saudi air campaign, which began March 26, came on the same day that global humanitarian agencies, including the World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross, said they were preparing for a massive humanitarian crisis in Yemen. In Washington, a coalition of Arab-American groups said they would sue the Obama administration to force it to evacuate Americans trapped in Yemen.
A State Department official said the U.S. government, which is providing logistical support for the Saudi campaign, believes it is too dangerous to risk a military operation to rescue Americans. “There are no current U.S. government-sponsored plans to evacuate private U.S. citizens from Yemen,” the official said. “We encourage all U.S. citizens to shelter in a secure location until they are able to depart safely.”
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The World Health Organization said Wednesday that between March 19 and Monday, 643 people had been killed in Yemen’s violence, including 74 children. WHO said another 2,226 people had been injured. Separately, Beyani said at least 311 civilians had been killed.
According to estimates from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the capital, Sanaa, had the highest death toll, with 88 civilians killed. Eighty-five civilians died in Aden and 43 have been killed in al Dhale. The U.N. office estimated that of 37 public buildings bombed around the country, five were hospitals.
Beyani warned that “the picture on the ground is extremely bleak” as fighting intensifies between Houthi rebels and the government, whose president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, fled to Saudi Arabia two weeks ago.
“Humanitarian responses must be stepped up as a matter of urgency,” Beyani said, predicting that thousands more people are likely to flee their homes as the fighting worsens. Already, the U.N. estimates, 100,000 people have been displaced and 14 of Yemen’s 22 provinces have seen fighting or bombing raids.
Fighting is most intense in Aden, Sanaa, Sadah and Dhale, the U.N. said.
Sitara Jabeen, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, told McClatchy that the agency has secured clearance from the Saudi-led coalition to fly in humanitarian supplies. Jabeen said that two flights, one carrying 16 tons of medical supplies from Amman, Jordan, and the other carrying 32 tons of water and sanitation and medical supplies from Liege, Belgium, had been cleared to arrive at Sanaa’s airport.
Separately, Jabeen said a Red Cross medical team of five arrived in Aden late Wednesday after a 12-hour journey by sea from Djibouti. She said the ICRC now has more than 250 national and international staff working in Yemen, she said.
Paul Garwood, a WHO spokesman, told McClatchy that the agency was providing health kits for 240,000 people throughout the country and enough trauma supplies for 400 operations at 18 hospitals throughout the country. The supplies included 11,000 bags of blood and intravenous fluids.
While the United States did not launch an evacuation of its citizens, other countries did, among them India, which rescued 232 people from 26 countries, including an unspecified number of Americans.
Hannah Allam in Washington contributed to this report.