August 15-21: Coalition airstrikes continue, tens of thousands protest in San'a

Monday, August 15A Saudi-led coalition airstrike on a MSF hospital in Hajja province killed at least 11 people and wounded 19. A statement by MSF says that this was the fourth facility operated by the organization that was targeted in less than 12 months. The spokesperson for the coalition has not yet responded to a request for a comment as to why the hospital was targeted. The attack comes following a Saturday coalition airstrike on a school that killed ten children.

Fifteen detainees at Guantanamo, 12 Yemenis and three Afghan men ages 36-66, were released last weekend and sent to the UAE. Most of them were brought to the prison when they were in their early 20’s, over 12 years ago, without ever being convicted of a crime. This is the single largest transfer under the Obama administration and the prison’s population could be reduced to less than 50 prisoners by the end of the summer.

CNN interviewed Hakim Almasmari, the editor-in-chief of Yemen Post, and Hisham al-Omeisy, a Yemeni journalist and political analyst, to learn more about the recent Saudi bombings and the daily struggles that Yemeni civilians are facing because of the war.

“At least 22 million people, civilians, sleep hungry in Yemen right now,” says Almasmari, “Millions of jobs lost and infrastructure destroyed. Food is scarce in Yemen and poverty is reaching unbelievable levels.”

Tuesday, August 16 WNYC’s The Takeaway talks with journalist Iona Craig about the war in Yemen, American and British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and the obstacles preventing essential food and medical aid from reaching Yemeni civilians.

Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor at Oxfam America, Scott Paul, recently traveled to Yemen and shares his thoughts on what Yemen needs from local actors and the international community.

Turkish outlet Anadolu Agency reports that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has stated that he rejects the “coup’ in Yemen and reiterated his support for the “legitimacy” of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi while emphasizing that Egypt would remain standing “side by side with the Gulf States and the other Arab countries in the Arab Coalition to support legitimacy in Yemen until the coalition has achieved all of its goals.” 

Wednesday, August 17 The New York Times editorial board published a piece condemning US support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, urging governments to put pressure on the coalition to stop targeting civilians and negotiate a peace deal.

“Mr. Obama has...supplied the coalition such indispensable assistance as intelligence, in-flight refueling of aircraft and help in identifying appropriate targets. Experts say the coalition would be grounded if Washington withheld its support. Instead, the State Department last week approved the potential sale of $1.15 billion more in tanks and other equipment to Saudi Arabia to replace items destroyed in the war. Congress has the power to block this sale.”

Amnesty International is calling on Houthi authorities to release 27 members of the Baha’i religion who are being detained without charge in San’a.

“The arbitrary arrests of Bahá’í people for doing nothing more than attending a peaceful community event is completely unjustifiable. It is just the latest example of authorities’ persecution of minority faiths,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.

A confidential report by the World Bank, the United Nations, Islamic Development Bank, and the European Union claims that damages to Yemen’s infrastructure and economy caused by the war amount to $14 billion.

"The conflict has so far resulted in damage costs (still partial and incomplete) of almost $7 billion and economic losses (in nominal terms) of over $7.3 billion in relation to production and service delivery."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the third time this week for the immediate cessation of all hostilities and for the Yemeni parties to return to the recently-ended direct talks.

“Civilians, including children, are paying the heaviest price in the ongoing conflict, as civilian infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, continue to be hit,” said a statement issued by Ban’s spokesperson.

Thursday, August 18 Doctors Without Borders has been forced to evacuate from six hospitals in Sa’dah and Hajjah provinces after the organization determined that the facilities are unsafe for patients and staff. Malak Shaher, MSF’s communications manager in Yemen, says that the indiscriminate Saudi airstrikes and the coalition’s unwillingness to provide assurances prevent continued operations at the hospitals.

Friday, August 19 The Saudi-led coalition expressed “deep regret” over MSF’s decision on Thursday to evacuate from north Yemen hospitals due to indiscriminate bombings by the coalition.

“The coalition said it was committed to respecting international humanitarian law in all its operations in Yemen and had set up an independent team to investigate incidents in which civilians were killed.”

US officials told Reuters that American military personnel assisting the Saudi-led coalition were withdrawn from Yemen in June. The officials claim that this withdrawal is unrelated to increased scrutiny of American participation in coalition bombings, and there is the possibility that staff will return to Yemen “if the strikes intensify.”

“‘The shift does not diminish U.S. commitment to supporting Saudi-led military operations. The JCPC forward team that was in Saudi Arabia is now in Bahrain,’ said Chris Sherwood, a Pentagon spokesman, who added that U.S. aerial tankers continue to refuel Saudi aircraft.”

In an interview with Yemen Today, the Russian Chargé d’Affaires in San’a, Oleg Dremov, endorsed the ruling council recently-formed by Saleh and the Houthis. Despite this statement, Dremov later reiterated his support for Hadi’s government.  

Saturday, August 20 Tens of thousands of Yemenis gathered in San’a’s Sab’aeen Square to protest Saudi-led coalition airstrikes and to support a governing council recently formed by Saleh’s GPC and the Houthis.

“As the rally was underway, three air strikes targeted the presidential compound located 600 meters away from the square without causing casualties," residents told Reuters.

Journalists Iona Craig and Hisham al-Omeisy spoke with the BBC on Saturday’s mass demonstrations in San’a to protest continued coalition airstrikes and to support the Houthi and Saleh governing coalition.

An anonymous Houthi source told Turkish outlet Anadolu Agency that the UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed traveled to Muscat, Oman to meet with Houthi representatives to discuss the next round of peace talks.

CNN interviewed Senator Chris Murphy about the US and the UK’s complicity in Saudi war crimes in Yemen, and the efforts that are being made to block weapons deals and ban cluster bombs. Although the title states that the US is distancing itself from the coalition in Yemen, it is not clear if that is the case, and it is likely that the US will continue to supply intelligence, and certainly weapons, to Saudi Arabia and its allies.

Sunday, August 21 Speaking to Russia 24, Saleh said the newly-formed governing council (consisting of the GPC and the Houthis) would be open to granting Russia access to Yemen’s military bases for the purposes of fighting terrorism.

"In the fight against terrorism we reach out and offer all facilities. Our airports, our ports... We are ready to provide this to the Russian Federation," said Saleh on Sunday.