Tue, Jan 01, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Young girl becomes symbol of Yemen war


A combination of pictures created on Saturday shows Buthaina al-Rimi, whose home was destroyed by an airstrike, as she was in a hospital in Sana’a on Aug. 28 last year, left, and as she mimics her face then while sitting in her uncle’s house in Sana’a on Wednesday last week.

Photo: AFP

Buthaina Mansur al-Rimi’s life has changed drastically since last year — orphaned in Sana’a, the little girl controversially ended up in Saudi Arabia for medical care and has just returned to Yemen’s capital.

Her entire immediate family was wiped out in an airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition that backs Yemen’s government, using an explosive device that Amnesty International says was made in the US.

Images of Buthaina’s rescue and a picture of her swollen and bruised at a hospital trying to force open one of her eyes with her fingers were beamed worldwide.

That international fame saw her become something of a propaganda pawn in the war between Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels and Saudi Arabian media.

In an interview, Buthaina and her uncle Ali — her legal guardian — recall the strike that killed her parents, four sisters, only brother and another uncle.

“I was in my mother’s room with my father, sisters, brother and uncle,” Buthaina told reporters from rebel-held Sana’a, where she has returned from Saudi Arabia to live with Ali and her cousins.

“The first missile hit and my father went to get us sugar to get over the shock, but then the second missile hit and then the third,” she said.

“And then the house fell,” the eight-year-old said.

It was the night of Aug. 25 last year.

The uncle who died was her “favorite,” she said.

Along with her family, eight other civilians — including two children — were killed in a house nearby.

A few days later, the picture of Buthaina attempting to force open her right eye went viral.

The Saudi-led alliance admitted responsibility for the airstrike, describing it as a “technical mistake.” It drew strong international condemnation.

In the week ahead of that strike, 42 people were killed in other airstrikes, according to the UN.

A month after her close family was wiped out, pictures of Buthaina appeared in Saudi media showing her being treated in Riyadh.

The circumstances surrounding her move from Sana’a to the Saudi capital remain unclear.

The Houthi rebels said Buthaina, her uncle Ali and his family were “kidnapped” by the coalition and taken to government-held Aden, before traveling on to Riyadh.

Saudi media said she was brought to the Saudi capital at the request of the internationally recognized Yemeni government.

Although the Saudi government has never commented officially on Buthaina’s case, pictures of her apparently boarding a private jet from Riyadh to Sana’a were published by Al Riyadh newspaper on Dec. 19.

The Houthis’ Al-Masirah media outlet has published stories welcoming them back from the “grasps of Saudi Arabia.”

“Eye of humanity exposes the enemy,” one headline ran.

Mahdi al-Mshat, head of the rebels’ Higher Political Council, has ordered that Buthaina and her remaining family be offered a home and salary, according to the rebels’ Saba news agency.

Buthaina said that she is looking forward to going to school for the first time.

Looking healthy, she sits on the floor of her uncle’s home in Sana’a.

She plays alongside her cousins with a doll, braiding its hair.

“I want to go to school and become a doctor,” she told reporters. “I want the war to stop and for us to live in peace ... for the children of Yemen to live in peace.”

The Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition stand accused by a UN panel of experts of acts that could amount to war crimes.

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