Yemen: Third bomb strike on Doctors Without Borders hospital in 3 months

Men inspect a house destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen, Jan. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

At least four people were killed when a bomb struck a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders in Yemen, the humanitarian group announced late Sunday. Another 10 people were injured, including three Doctors Without Borders staffers. The source of the strike is unknown. It marks the third time in three months that a Doctors Without Borders facility was struck in Yemen.

“We strongly condemn this incident that confirms a worrying pattern of attacks to essential medical services and express our strongest outrage as this will leave a very fragile population without health care for weeks,” said Raquel Ayora, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders, in a statement. “Once more it is civilians that bear the brunt of this war.”

The U.N. joined in the strong condemnation of the attack, which took place at 9:20 a.m. on Sunday. It occurred at Shiara Hospital, a medical facility located in Saada province of Yemen, a region held by the Houthi rebels. Witnesses say that planes were visible above the region when the strike occurred.

The government of Yemen and international backers, notably Saudi Arabia, have battled with the Houthi rebels over the past year. The rebels managed to topple the Yemeni government in early 2015, sparking prolonged fighting. Saudi airstrikes have provided support in recent months, but human rights groups say some bombings are indiscriminate and causes civilian causalities.

A report from Human Rights Watch last week said the Saudi-led coalition forces drooped cluster bombs on residential neighborhoods in the Yemeni capital city of Sanaa. The group could not confirm the damage caused by the bombing, but said it may amount to a war crime.

“The coalition’s repeated use of cluster bombs in the middle of a crowded city suggests an intent to harm civilians, which is a war crime,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “These outrageous attacks show that the coalition seems less concerned than ever about sparing civilians from war’s horrors.”

Some 2,795 civilians have died since the Saudis began providing support in March. And 21 million people, about 80 percent of the country’s population, are in need of aid. The campaign has helped beat back the Houthis, but the group still controls Sanaa. In another recent report, Human Rights Watch documented how the rebels have detained and disappeared opponents.

Sunday was not the first time Shiara Hospital has been bombed. It was attacked before Doctors Without Borders started providing support. The Razeh District, where the hospital is located, is a heavily populated area where “conflict is particularly acute” according to the aid group.

Hospitals supported by Doctors Without Borders treat patients regardless of affiliation and operate under the protection of international rules of war. As was the case with the deadly bombing of one of its hospitals in Afghanistan, the group says it provides the exact location of its facilities. That is meant to prevent forces from launching attacks on hospitals. Over the past year, that protection has not held up.

“All warring parties, including the Saudi led coalition, are regularly informed of the GPS coordinates of the medical sites where [Doctors Without Borders] works and we are in constant dialogue with them to ensure that they understand the severity of the humanitarian consequences of the conflict and the need to respect the provision of medical services,” says Ayora. “There is no way that anyone with the capacity to carry out an airstrike or launch a rocket would not have known that the Shiara Hospital was a functioning health facility providing critical services and supported by [Doctors Without Borders].”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.