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Civilian deliberately targeted in Saudi ‘double-tap’ airstrikes in Yemen: Report

First responders search for victims from under the rubble of a destroyed building that was used as a detention center which was hit by a Saudi airstrike in Dhamar Province on September 1, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Saudi Arabia may have used “double-tap” airstrikes in Yemen, a tactic that sharply increases the number of civilian casualties and endangers rescuers who rush to help the victims of the first air raid, a new report has warned, after Riyadh’s latest attack on a Yemeni prison claimed more than 100 lives.

The report by Bellingcat, an investigative journalism site, is to be released on Monday. The tactic sees missiles fired once, then again when aid workers have rushed to the injured, the British daily The Independent said. 

Evidence gathered by Bellingcat researchers and seen by the paper shows civilian targets, including a funeral hall, markets, a restaurant, a mosque and a residential area, in Yemen were hit by double-tap air raids.

“The attacks on these locations appeared to kill and injure far more civilians than was proportionate to any likely military advantage. In some cases, such egregious civilian harm appears entirely foreseeable, suggesting that members of the coalition have intentionally conducted indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks,” said the report.

The report is based on an examination of open source photographs and videos of Saudi aerial attacks.

“When the coalition hits a market twice, it shows that there is a lack of will to minimize civilian casualties or collateral damage. People are going to come after the first strike, so obviously you’re going to hit first responders and civilians,” the lead of the Yemen team at Bellingcat, Rawan Shaif, told The Independent.

“Even if there was a military target at these sites, the evidence suggests they were targeting individuals, and not weapons depots due to a lack of secondary explosions,” she added.

“Going in twice to make sure that an individual is dead, and causing all the collateral damage, is recklessness,” Shaif said.

The report also said the coalition’s own investigations into its military actions in Yemen, “appear to have been purely token in nature and forthcoming only in response to overwhelming international outrage”.

It comes as the British government prepares to appeal a court ruling that forced it to suspend sales of UK arms to Saudi Arabia because they are used by Riyadh against civilians in Yemen.

Bellingcat, a non-profit organization that specializes in open-source investigations, said Saudi-led attacks that potentially breach humanitarian law have not stopped, which indicates “a clear risk that weapons sold by the UK may be used in breaches”.

Enjoying the support of the US and Britain, Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating campaign against Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing the government of former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi back to power and crushing Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement.

The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the war has claimed more than 91,000 lives over the past four and a half years.

The war has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools, and factories. The UN says over 24 million Yemenis are in dire need of humanitarian aid, including 10 million suffering from extreme levels of hunger.

‘Another crime against humanity’

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia carried out several air raids on a college-turned-prison in Dhamar Province where prisoners of war were being kept, leaving more than 100 people dead, according to health officials and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

A spokesperson for Yemen’s health ministry told Middle East Eye that 185 people were detained in three buildings belonging to Dhamar Community College, which were hit by seven airstrikes on Sunday.

"The three buildings were hit and there were 185 prisoners inside them, and all of them were either killed or injured," a source in the Dhamar health office told MEE, adding "When the Saudis hit a building with an airstrike, it is certain that everyone inside it will become a casualty."

He further said that prison's guards were also killed and wounded in the attack.

Noting that over 100 dead had so far been counted, the source said "In the coming hours, the number of dead will exceed 150, as most of the wounded people suffer from critical wounds and they cannot receive proper healthcare in Dhamar or Sana’a."

"The destruction of the medical system is another Saudi crime, as injured people cannot receive proper healthcare."

He stressed that the jail was known not to be a military site.

The Saudi-led coalition claimed that the airstrikes destroyed a site storing drones and missiles in Dhamar.

The health office source rejected the claim and said: "These buildings used to be a college and it was turned into prison, so both are not a target for the coalition and this is a crime against humanity."

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