DUBAI — At least 35 people were killed in air strikes that hit a hotel near a Houthi-controlled outpost outside the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Wednesday, a medic said, and a Saudi-led coalition spokesman said it conducted the strike against its Houthi adversary.
The coalition spokesman said a “legitimate military high-value target” was hit in Arhab district, north of Sanaa. “The ones who perished were members of an armed renegade group,” he said in a reference to the Houthis who are aligned with Iran.
The roof of the hotel collapsed, leaving at least two bodies dangling from the building in the Arhab area, about 20 kilometers from Sanaa, a Reuters witness said.
Al-Masira TV, which is run by the armed Houthi group that controls northern Yemen, quoted the Sanaa governorate as saying the death toll had risen to at least 46 “martyrs.” It did not immediately make a direct reference to civilians or fighters.
Yehia Hussein, an emergency worker in the Houthi-controled area, said “Saudi-American aggressors” targeted the hotel, which had been hosting around 100 people.
Medics found 35 corpses as well as body parts, he said. “There are almost 13 wounded and the rest of the victims are still under the rubble,” Hussein added.
The ground-floor structure of the gray concrete building was still standing but the upper level was reduced to rubble with metal wires splayed into the air.
Men searched through the rubble, while others carried a body in a blanket to a white van.
“The Joint Forces Command vetted incoming information through its intelligence sources that confirmed the arrival of a group of armed militants to one of the buildings,” the coalition spokesman, Colonel Turki al-Malki, told Reuters in a statement.
“This Houthi group was deployed in Arhab District as well as the surroundings of Sanaa International Airport.”
The Houthi forces are not believed to have any air power.
“Today’s crimes remind us that we are all targeted as Yemenis,” al-Masirah TV quoted the group’s leader, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi as saying.
Air strikes escalate
The Houthis, whose territory includes Sanaa, are fighting Yemen’s internationally-recognized government that is backed by the Saudi-led military alliance in a war which has killed at least 10,000 and unleashed a humanitarian disaster.
This month a senior U.N. official condemned recent reported air strikes in Yemen, including on a house containing children, saying they showed “disregard” for civilian safety.
The Saudi-led coalition denied targeting the family home after a health official said nine civilians were killed in an air strike.
The United States and Britain provide arms and logistical assistance to the alliance for its campaign. The issue has caused controversy in Britain over the toll on civilians.
In addition to striking military targets, air strikes have hit hospitals, infrastructure and port facilities, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis.
U.S. officials have said they have tried to find ways to improve Saudi targeting. The Pentagon sent U.S. military lawyers to train Saudi counterparts on how to ensure the legality of air strikes, and software designed to help determine whether certain munitions might cause destruction beyond the target.
A report by international aid agencies last week said Yemen suffered more air strikes in the first half of this year than in the whole of 2016, increasing the number of civilian deaths and forcing more people to flee their homes.
The report did not identify any party as being responsible for the strikes but the coalition has controlled Yemeni airspace since the war began in March 2015. U.S. forces have also conducted occasional air strikes or raids using drones.
The United Nations has put the death toll since the war began in March 2015 at more than 10,000.