The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen on Sunday staged multiple airstrikes on a detention center operated by the Houthi rebels in the southwestern province of Dhamar, killing at least 100 people and wounding dozens more, officials and the rebel-run Ministry of Health said.
Franz Rauchenstein, head of the Red Cross delegation in Yemen, said after visiting the site of the attack that the death toll might be higher, adding that relatively few detainees survived.
A Red Cross statement said the center held about 170 detainees.
Forty of those were being treated for injuries and the rest were presumed dead, it added.
“Witnessing this massive damage, seeing the bodies lying among the rubble, was a real shock. Anger and sadness were natural reactions,” Rauchenstein said.
The attack was the deadliest so far this year by the coalition, according to the Yemen Data Project, a database tracking the war.
The coalition has faced international criticism for airstrikes that have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties, killing thousands of Yemeni civilians.
The attack comes as the Saudi-led coalition’s partners — chiefly the United Arab Emirates and an array of Yemeni militias — are increasingly at odds over the war’s aims. The past weeks have seen heavy fighting in Yemen’s south between Saudi-backed and Emirati-backed forces.
Yemeni officials said that Sunday’s strikes targeted a college in the city of Dhamar, which the Houthi rebels were using as a detention center.
The coalition denied it had struck a detention center, saying that it had targeted a military site used by the rebels to restore drones and missiles.
“We were sleeping and around midnight, there were maybe three or four or six strikes. They were targeting the jail. I really don’t know the strike numbers,” wounded detainee Nazem Saleh said, while lying on a stretcher in a local hospital.
The Red Cross had visited the center two times before the airstrike, he said.
A line of more than a dozen white body bags were laid out in the rubble beside flattened buildings and crushed vehicles, while rescue workers dug through the debris.
“We have seen now under the ruble that there are still many, many dead bodies — they are very, very difficult to extract,” Rauchenstein said.
The UN human rights office for Yemen said that 52 detainees were among the dead and that at least 68 detainees were still missing.
The Red Cross, which inspects detention centers as part of its global mission, said that it had visited detainees at the site in the past.
Former detainees said the Houthis had previously used the site to store and repair weapons.
Youssef al-Hadhri, a spokesman for the Houthi-run Health Ministry, said at least seven airstrikes hit three buildings in the complex overnight.
The rebels’ health ministry said in a statement that more than 60 people were killed in Sunday’s airstrikes and another 50 wounded.
Later in the day, health officials said on condition of anonymity that the death toll had climbed to 65.
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