As Adel al-Jubeir, the freshly minted foreign minister, declared the impending halt on May 8th, the Saudi-led coalition began an intense bombing campaign on Saada, a province in northern Yemen, in a reprisal against Shia rebels known as the Houthis.
Reports from residents of Saada say that the bombing has been relentless. “Homes, schools, everything has been destroyed,” says a Houthi supporter in the capital who has friends and family in Saada. Aid workers say the bombardment will probably lead to a “mass loss of life”.
When the Saudis declared the entire province a military target, they were effectively telling the world in advance that they were going to be killing civilians in large numbers. According to this report, it appears that this is exactly what they’ve been doing in the last two days. I don’t think there is any question that these attacks on civilians constitute war crimes. They seem to have been committed deliberately to punish civilians in the area for the acts of Houthi militiamen, who were themselves retaliating against the bombing campaign that the Saudis began in March. Indeed, the Saudis must have expected that these attacks would be seen as war crimes, which is why they sent their useless warning to the inhabitants shortly before the attacks began.
As I noted in my previous post, the Saudis’ call for civilians to evacuate the area was an impossible demand. The article continues:
“It is impossible for the entire population of Saada province to leave within hours,” says Llanos Ortiz, an emergency coordinator at Médecins Sans Frontieres, an aid agency. “Many people have no transport or fuel due to the coalition’s blockade. Many others have no access to information because the province’s phone networks are barely operational.”
The Saudis’ warning was the thinnest of fig leaves used to provide cover for the atrocious tactics that they were preparing to use against the civilian population. Every day that the U.S. backs this war, our government is contributing to the senseless killing of Yemeni civilians. This has only become worse since the campaign began, and it seems likely to keep getting worse. It’s worth noting that this is the sort of thing that usually spurs “humanitarian” interventionists to call for the U.S. to attack the government that does things like this. Strange how that doesn’t seem to happen when the civilians being killed are considered to be on the “wrong” side of a conflict.
The report says that “America has grown frustrated with broken promises by the Saudis to halt the fighting,” but that hasn’t translated into any change in the U.S. policy. If the administration is so frustrated, it could start by withdrawing its support for the campaign and refusing to give the Saudis and their allies any of the things they are hoping to get at the upcoming GCC summit. Instead of rushing to “reassure” Riyadh of U.S. support, Washington should be making clear that the Saudis’ reckless intervention will have consequences for the future of the relationship between our governments. The U.S. may not be able to stop the Saudis from what they’re doing, but it can at least ensure that the Saudis don’t benefit from increasing U.S. support in the process.