SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Airstrikes in northern Yemen killed as many as nine children, a United Nations official said Friday, making it the third such attack with significant child deaths in that rebel-controlled region this month.
Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said in a statement that a group of mostly women and children were hit while they were traveling by road Thursday. She said it was “shocking and completely, totally unacceptable.”
The statement said at least seven more children and two women were injured, but added that the casualty figures were only preliminary and still under investigation.
The health ministry for the Houthi rebels, who control the area where the incident happened, had said Thursday that the Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s government conducted six airstrikes in the mountainous northern Yemeni province of Jawf. It said a rough early count indicated more than 20 dead, mostly women and children.
Limited access to Houthi-controlled areas for aid workers and journalists often makes details of attacks difficult to confirm.
A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Turki al-Maliki, told the Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat paper Friday that the coalition was “seriously looking into” the recent allegations of civilian casualties. The coalition, which has been at war with the Houthi rebels for years, has drawn international criticism for errant airstrikes that have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties, killing thousands of civilians.
On July 14, the U.N. reported that an airstrike in Hajjah province killed seven children, some as young as 2 years old. The next day, the Houthi rebels and aid workers reported an airstrike by the coalition hit a celebration in Jawf for a newborn boy’s circumcision, killing at least 10 civilians, including six children and two women.
Yemen’s conflict erupted late in 2014 when the Iran-backed Houthi rebels swept across much of the north and seized the capital, Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi into exile. The following year, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states formed a coalition to fight the Houthis in what they said was an effort to stop Iran’s growing sway in Yemen.
The conflict has killed more than 100,000 people and created the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with more than 3 million people internally displaced and two-thirds of the population relying on food aid for survival.