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Saudi-led coalition denies targeting prison in Yemen airstrikes

By Adam Schrader
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Saudi-led coalition denies targeting prison in Yemen airstrikes
Yemenis on Saturday inspect the site of airstrikes which hit a prison in the northern province of Saada, Yemen, on Friday. Photo by EPA-EFE/STR

Jan. 22 (UPI) -- A coalition led by Saudi Arabia on Saturday denied allegations by the Houthi militia in Yemen that it was responsible for a series of airstrikes that killed dozens of people.

At least 70 people were killed and 138 wounded after airstrikes hit several targets across northwestern Yemen, including a prison, an airport and a telecommunications hub, officials with Doctors Without Borders said Friday.

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The international aid organization called the attack a "horrific act of violence," and blamed the airstrikes on the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen. The aid group also said local hospitals were overwhelmed with patients and that the attack cut off Internet service across the country.

Mohammed Abdul Salam, spokesman for the Houthi movement, said in a statement that the coalition had committed "crimes against civilians in Saada prison and residential neighborhoods in Hodeidah and Sanaa, all of which reflects the extent of the field failure of a cowardly and immoral enemy."

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However, coalition spokesman Brigadier Gen. Turki Al-Maliki said in a statement Saturday that the "baseless and unfounded" claim that the coalition intentionally targeted the prison and civilians was spread by media outlets reporting "misinformation."

"The Joint Forces Command of the Coalition has followed what was circulated by some media outlets after the terrorist Iran-backed Houthi militia's announcement that the Coalition has targeted a detention center in Saada governorate on Friday morning, and the claim that some casualties have occurred among detainees in said center," Al-Maliki said, according to Saudi state media.

Al-Maliki said the coalition takes the reports of the airstrikes "extremely seriously" and has conducted a review of the attack, which found that the "claims have been proven groundless."

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"What the terrorist Iran-backed Houthi militia proclaimed underlines its constant approach of misleading and disinformation," Al-Maliki said.

He said the target has not been placed on a United Nations "no-strike list" and has not been reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the international organization to provide humanitarian help during armed conflicts under the Geneva Conventions.

Al-Maliki also said that the prison "does not adhere to the rules of the International Humanitarian Law concerning detention centers" as described by the article related to the treatment of prisoners of war in the Geneva Convention.

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The coalition will brief the United Nations and Red Cross on the "facts and details" of the airstrikes, as well as "the media misinformation which has been exhibited by the terrorist Houthi militia regarding the target and the location of the claim," Al-Maliki said.

The airstrikes came days after the Houthi militia took responsibility for a rare drone attack that caused three oil tankers to explode in the United Arab Emirates, killing three people.

Abu Dhabi police said in a statement on Facebook that the victims included one person from Pakistan and two from India and that six other people sustained minor injuries during the drone strike.

A fire tied to the drone strike was also reported at a construction site near Abu Dhabi International Airport, police said, leading to the cancellation and delays of some flights and two airport staff being transferred to a local hospital for treatment.

An international coalition of troops led by Saudi Arabia, including Emirate forces, have fought a seven-year-long war with Houthi rebels to back the Yemeni government as the country itself is engaged in a civil war widely viewed as a conflict over the influence of Iran in the region.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the airstrikes and the "escalation" of the conflict in a statement on Friday.

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"We are aware of reports of a Saudi-led coalition strike that hit a detention center today, killing at least 70 people. This airstrike comes just days after the deliberate Houthi attack on civilians in Abu Dhabi that also resulted in several casualties," Blinken said.

"The escalation in fighting only exacerbates a dire humanitarian crisis and the suffering of the Yemeni people. That is why the United States calls on all parties to the conflict to de-escalate, abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, and participate fully in an inclusive U.N.-led peace process."

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