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Yemen Officials: Saudi-Led Coalition Strikes Hotel, Many Die

  • Associated Press

People gather at the site of Saudi-led air strikes in Arhab area, around 20 kilometres (13 miles) north of Sana'a, Aug. 23, 2017.

The Saudi-led coalition carried out several airstrikes in Yemen early on Wednesday, hitting a small hotel near the capital of Sana'a and killing dozens of people, Yemeni officials and witnesses said.

There were conflicting reports on the victims, with doctors saying they were farmers and officials and witnesses saying they included Houthi rebels.

The fighter jets targeted a two-story hotel in Qaa al-Qaidhi district, located in the town of Arhab, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) north of Sana'a, officials said.

The building sustained extensive damage and bodies were still being retrieved from under the rubble, witnesses said later on Wednesday. Another airstrike hit a checkpoint manned by the Houthis, a few kilometers (miles) from the hotel, they added. The officials and the witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Footage of the area aired on al-Masirah TV, a Houthi-run satellite news network, showed bodies hanging out of a simple cinderblock building. Bystanders wrapped mangled corpses into blankets to try to carry them away.

The TV network said 41 civilians were killed and that the death toll was expected to rise further. Officials and witnesses told The Associated Press that the death toll had reached 60 and that the majority of those killed were Houthis rebels.

Physician Ali al-Rakmi who was helping at the site of the hotel strike, said there were more than 100 people inside at the time of the attack, all farmers who work in growing qat. The plant's leaves are chewed for a stimulant effect, a widespread tradition among Yemeni men.

Al-Rakmi said they had retrieved 35 bodies so far, with many only as pieces of bodies.

Fahd Marhab, head of the Umrah hospital about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the site of the airstrike, said there were no wounded and that all the people in the hotel were killed in the 3 a.m. airstrike. He also said that they were mostly farmers.

It was not possible to reconcile the discrepancies in the accounts and the different number of fatalities reported by the officials and the TV.

There was no immediate comment from the coalition.

The Saudi-led coalition has been waging an extensive air campaign against the Houthis and forces loyal to ousted Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh since March 2015, seeking to push the rebels from lands they captured, including Sanaa, and restore the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power.

But the airstrikes have also hit civilian targets, such as schools, hospitals, and markets, killing thousands and prompting rights groups to accuse the Saudi-led coalition of committing war crimes. Activists have also called upon Western countries, including the United States and Britain, to cease military support for the coalition.

Yemen's conflict began after the Houthis swept into Sanaa in 2014 and overthrew Hadi's government, forcing it to relocate to the southern port city of Aden and prompting Hadi to seek military support from Arab Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia.

The conflict has so far killed over 10,000 civilians, displaced 3 million people and pushed the impoverished nation to the brink of famine.

Wednesday's hotel bombing comes amid stepped-up airstrikes in and around Sanaa, with army compounds and other Houthi locations targeted. Also hit was the Rimah Hamid military camp south of Sanaa, where officers are loyal to Saleh's forces.

The Houthi-Saleh alliance, meanwhile, has seen a long-simmering power struggle burst into the open. Over the past days, the two sides have exchanged accusations and threats ahead of a rally on Thursday to mark the 35th anniversary of the founding of Saleh's party, the General People's Congress.

Saleh and the Houthis were always unlikely allies. As president, Saleh fought the Houthis from 2004 till 2009 in their northern heartland of Saada. After his overthrow in the 2011 uprising under a deal that gave him immunity from prosecution in return for giving up power, Saleh and the Houthis struck an alliance of convenience with a common enemy — Hadi's government and his Islamist Islah party allies.

Sanaa is packed with armed men and armored vehicles, fueling fears of open clashes between Saleh's forces and the Houthis. Saleh has complained that the rebels have sidelined him and his loyalists, leaving them out of military and political decisions, as well as U.N.-sponsored negotiations to end Yemen's civil war.

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