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At least 70 killed, hundreds wounded in Saudi-led strike on Yemen prison

Doctors without Borders: Prison bombing ‘a horrific act of violence’; second attack knocks out internet in country; strikes come after Houthi drone attack on UAE oil facility

This photo provided by Ansar Allah Media Office, a man is rescued early Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, after Saudi-led airstrikes targeted a site in the contested city of Hodeida, Yemen.  (Ansar Allah Media Office via AP)
This photo provided by Ansar Allah Media Office, a man is rescued early Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, after Saudi-led airstrikes targeted a site in the contested city of Hodeida, Yemen. (Ansar Allah Media Office via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The health minister in the rebel government set up by Yemen’s Houthi rebels says the airstrike on a rebel-run detention facility in the country’s north early on Friday killed at least 70 detainees.

The minister, Taha al-Motawakel, told The Associated Press in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa — which is also held by the rebels — that he expects the number of those killed to rise since many of the wounded are seriously hurt. He says there would be updates on the death toll in the coming hours.

The strike was part of an intensified aerial campaign by the Saudi-led coalition that has waged war on the Iran-backed rebels since 2015. The strikes stepped up after the Iran-backed rebels claimed an attack that hit the United Arab Emirates earlier this week. Another airstrike in the port city of Hodeida earlier Friday apparently took Yemen entirely off the internet.

A strike in the port city of Hodeida, later confirmed by satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press, hit a telecommunication center there that’s key to Yemen’s connection to the internet. Airstrikes also hit near Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, held by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels since late 2014.

The intense campaign comes after the Houthis claimed a drone and missile attack that struck inside the capital of the United Arab Emirates earlier in the week.

Basheer Omar, an International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson in Yemen, gave the casualty figure to the AP. He said rescuers continued to go through the prison site in the northern city of Saada, also controlled by the Houthis.

“The toll is likely to increase, unfortunately,” Omar said. The Red Cross had moved some of the wounded to facilities elsewhere, he said. There was no breakdown for how many were killed and how many were wounded.

Doctors Without Borders in a separate statement put the number of wounded alone at “around 200” people.

This photo provided by Ansar Allah Media Office, a man is rescued early Friday, January 21, 2022, after Saudi-led airstrikes targeted a site in the contested city of Hodeida, Yemen. (Ansar Allah Media Office via AP)

“From what I hear from my colleague in Saada, there are many bodies still at the scene of the airstrike, many missing people,” said Ahmed Mahat, the organization’s head of mission in Yemen. “It is impossible to know how many people have been killed. It seems to have been a horrific act of violence.”

The organization Save the Children said over 60 were killed in Saada, describing the prison as holding detained migrants.

“The initial casualties report from Saada is horrifying,” said Gillian Moyes, Save the Children’s country director in Yemen. “Migrants seeking better lives for themselves and their families, Yemeni civilians injured by the dozens, is a picture we never hoped to wake up to in Yemen.”

The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis did not immediately acknowledge the strike in Saada.

As for the airstrike in Hodeida that apparently took Yemen entirely offline, NetBlocks said the internet disruption began around 1 a.m. local and affected TeleYemen, the state-owned monopoly that controls internet access in the country. TeleYemen is now run by the Houthis.

Yemen faces “a nation-scale collapse of internet connectivity” after an airstrike on a telecommunications building, NetBlocks said.

The San Diego-based Center for Applied Internet Data Analysis and San Francisco-based internet firm CloudFlare also noted a nationwide outage affecting Yemen beginning around the same time.

Over 12 hours later, the internet remained down. The Norwegian Refugee Council decried the strike as “a blatant attack on civilian infrastructure that will also impact our aid delivery.”

The Houthis’ Al-Masirah satellite news channel said the strike on the telecommunications building had killed and wounded people. It released chaotic footage of people digging through rubble for a body as gunshots could be heard. Aid workers assisted bloodied survivors.

Save the Children said the airstrike in Hodeida killed at least three children playing on a soccer field.

Satellite photos analyzed by the AP corresponded to photos shared on social media of the telecommunications building being flattened by the airstrike.

Map locations of two Saudi airstrikes in Yemen: one striking a prison in the northwest city of Saada, and the other in the western port city of Hodeidah, where a telecommunications hub was struck, crippling the country’s internet access. (AP)

The Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthi rebels acknowledged carrying out “accurate airstrikes to destroy the capabilities of the militia” around Hodeida’s port. It did not immediately acknowledge striking a telecommunication target as NetBlocks described, but instead called Hodeida a hub for piracy and Iranian arms smuggling to back the Houthis. Iran has denied arming the Houthis, though United Nations experts, independent analysts and Western nations point to evidence showing Tehran’s link to the weapons.

The undersea FALCON cable carries internet into Yemen through the Hodeida port along the Red Sea for TeleYemen. The FALCON cable has another landing in Yemen’s far eastern port of Ghaydah as well, but the majority of Yemen’s population lives in its west along the Red Sea.

A cut to the FALCON cable in 2020 caused by a ship’s anchor also caused widespread internet outages in Yemen. Land cables to Saudi Arabia have been cut since the start of Yemen’s civil war, while connections to two other undersea cables have yet to be made amid the conflict, TeleYemen previously said.

The Saudi-led coalition entered Yemen’s civil war in 2015 to try and restore to power the impoverished country’s internationally recognized government, ousted by the Houthis the year before. The war has turned into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with international criticism of Saudi airstrikes that have killed hundreds of civilians and targeted the country’s infrastructure. The Houthis meanwhile have used child soldiers and indiscriminately laid landmines across the country.

The war has killed some 130,000 people, including over 13,000 civilians slain in targeted attacks, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Project.

The war reached into the UAE, a Saudi ally, on Monday, when the Houthis claimed a drone and missile attack on Abu Dhabi, killing three people and wounding six. Although the UAE has largely withdrawn its forces from the conflict, it remains heavily involved in the war and supports local militias on the ground in Yemen.

Video still purportedly showing fire after drone attack in Abu Dhabi, on January 17, 2022. The video could not be independently verified (Screenshot)

On Thursday, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was alarmed at the ongoing airstrikes in Sanaa, Hodeida and other locations in Yemen, as well as separate shelling attacks. The body’s special envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, ended a visit to Riyadh on Thursday that was meant to discuss the spike in hostilities with Saudi and exiled Yemeni government officials.

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