Airstrike in Yemen deepens war, presents challenge for U.S.

SANAA, Yemen — More than 1,000 mourners were packed into the funeral hall, including some of the most powerful figures in Yemen’s rebel movement. Ali al-Akwa, who was just about to start reciting the Quran, heard warplanes overhead — but that wasn’t strange for wartime Sanaa. Surely a funeral would be safe, he thought.

Moments later, a huge explosion struck, tearing bodies apart. The ceiling collapsed, walls fell in and a fire erupted. As people scrambled frantically to get out, a second missile struck, killing more of them.

Nearly 140 people were killed and more than 600 wounded in Saturday’s airstrike — one of the deadliest since Saudi Arabia and its allies began an air campaign in Yemen in March 2015. The coalition is trying to uproot the Shiite Houthi rebels who took over the capital and much of northern Yemen from the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The coalition seems to have been hoping to take out a significant part of the Houthis’ military leadership and its allies, who were expected at the funeral. Instead, the attack is likely to deepen the stalemate in a war that has already pushed the impoverished country into collapse.

The bloodshed has eclipsed new U.N. efforts to secure even a brief cease-fire. Amid popular anger, the coalition has lost potential tribal allies. In an attempt to expand the war, the Houthis have retaliated by firing rockets into neighboring Saudi Arabia and at U.S. warships.

The only hope for progress toward a resolution, many Yemenis say, is if the strike prompts Saudi Arabia’s top ally, the United States, and other Western nations to halt arms sales, pressure Riyadh to ease the war and move toward negotiations.

After the strike, the White House said it will immediately review its assistance to the coalition and stressed that the support is not a “blank check.” The Obama administration is sensitive to criticism from human rights groups.

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