Yemenis shout slogans during a rally in Sana on Monday protesting Saudi-led airstrikes that hit a funeral hall. (Yahya Arhab / European Pressphoto Agency)
Thousands of Yemenis marched in the capital Sana on Sunday to protest a Saudi-led coalition airstrike a day earlier that hit a funeral hall packed with hundreds of mourners, killing more than 140 people.
The casualty toll, given by a U.N. official, also mentioned more than 525 wounded in what was one of the deadliest single attacks of the country’s civil war. The rebel-controlled Health Ministry gave a lower figure, saying that 115 bodies had been counted but that the number will likely rise because “charred remains” were still being identified. Of the 600 wounded it tallied, it said many cases were serious and at least 300 would need treatment abroad.
Some of the demonstrators who marched outside the U.N. building in southern Sana blamed the organization for not ending the conflict and urged an independent investigation. Some protesters brandished automatic weapons and rebel supporters in the crowd called on people from the region to rise up and attack Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi military announced early Sunday it would launch an investigation into “reports about the regrettable and painful bombing” in Sana, without acknowledging that its coalition battling rebels in Yemen is the only force with air power in the conflict.
It is the latest in a string of bombings by the coalition that have struck hospitals, markets and other places where civilians congregate.
Yemeni officials said the dead and wounded included military and security officials from the ranks of the Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies, loyalists of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Houthi leader Abdul-Malek Houthi decried the attacks in a televised address, saying that they had been done with U.S. weapons and with a “green light” from Washington. Saleh also took to state TV to call on citizens to head to the Saudi border and attack soldiers there to avenge the deaths. The rebel alliance is battling the internationally recognized government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi.
Saturday’s funeral was held for Sheikh Ali Rawishan, the father of Galal Rawishan, the interior minister in the rebel-led government. Among those killed was Maj. Gen. Abdul-Qader Hilal, head of the capital’s local council, officials said; Galal Rawishan was seriously wounded.
In a statement early Sunday, Saudi Arabia said an investigation would be launched into the strike. Previous investigations by the Saudis have blamed Houthi or rebel forces for gathering near the sites of their attacks.
Initial reports from health officials in Sana indicate that more than 140 people were killed and more than 525 injured, McGoldrick said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the bombing in a statement Sunday, saying that “any deliberate attack against civilians is utterly unacceptable Those responsible for the attack must be brought to justice.”
The strike also prompted outrage in Hadi’s government, with Foreign Minister Abdulmalik Mekhlafi taking to social media to condemn it as a “crime.”
The incident has led the U.S. to initiate an immediate review of its already reduced support for the Saudi-led coalition, White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said. He warned that U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia “is not a blank check.”
The United States has backed the coalition with multibillion-dollar arms sales and provided logistical and intelligence support, though it reportedly began pulling some soldiers from that task in August over concerns about civilian casualties in Saudi-led airstrikes.