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Saudi Arabia Can't Get Its Story Straight on the MSF Hospital Destroyed in Yemen

Controversy continues to mount following airstrikes that destroyed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in northern Yemen, an attack the Saudi government termed a "mistake," but which Riyadh now denies it had anything to do with.
Image via MSF

Controversy continues to mount following airstrikes that destroyed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in northern Yemen, an attack the Saudi government termed a "mistake," but which Riyadh is now once more denying they had anything to do with. A promised investigation into the event has also been called into question after the Yemeni ambassador said his government would not carry such an examination of the strike.


Dueling narratives have emerged since the hospital in northern Sadaa province was obliterated late Monday night. On Tuesday, hours after a coalition spokesperson said Saudi coalition jets were nowhere near the facility, the country's ambassador to the UN told VICE News that MSF, as the medical charity is known by its French acronym, had provided incorrect coordinates — an allegation that MSF repeatedly denied. In addition to providing proper geolocation data, MSF said its logo had been painted on the roof of the hospital, and that it was visible from the air.

"The coalition forces tried to avoid the location that was given to them by Medecins Sans Frontieres, and they were targeting a field that was used by the Houthis for training and ammunition gathering," said the Saudi Ambassador, Abdallah al-Mouallimi, referencing the northern Shia rebels that the Saudi coalition has targeted since March. The hospital, he added, "was hit by mistake as a result of Medicins Sans Frontieres providing wrong coordinates."

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Less than 24 hours later, Mouallimi completely reversed his account.

At a press conference at the Saudi mission to the UN shortly after noon on Wednesday, the ambassador insisted that his comments the day before were "either misquoted" or "taken out of context." Mouallimi denied that the Saudi coalition was operating near the hospital in Haydan district and said they did not bomb it.


At a separate press conference later in the afternoon, Saudi officials presented reporters with a statement, which said that "Arab coalition aircrafts did not carry out operations in Saada at the time of the reported incident."

"The cause of the blasts which occurred in the hospital cannot be known without conducting and investigation," stated the text.

In a further contradiction of what Mouallimi said a day earlier, the Saudi delegation on Wednesday claimed that coalition forces in fact did have the correct GPS data for the hospital, which were placed on a list of "forbidden targets."

"Accordingly, this hospital could not have been targeted by the Coalition forces," said the statement.

Mouallimi went on to criticize the UN for publicly identifying the Saudi-led coalition as the perpetrators of the attack before an investigation had taken place.

The ambassador also promised that an investigation would take place, which, he noted, "will be conducted by the Yemeni government" with assistance from the coalition.

Minutes later, Yemen's ambassador to the UN said that was not the case.

"It's not my government that is conducting the investigation," Ambassador Khaled Alyemany told a group of reporters. "Actually the Coalition is doing the investigation."

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Alyemany, who represents the largely Riyadh-based government of Pesident Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, was evidently not aware of the comments Mouallimi had made a few feet away.

More than 2,355 civilians have been killed since March in Yemen. Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh have been cited for gross human rights violations, including deadly shelling of civilian areas. However, according to the UN, the majority of non-combatants killed in the past seven months died as a result of airstrikes.

Last month, the Saudi government and its Gulf allies blocked efforts at the UN Human Rights Council to establish an international mission to investigate crimes committed in the past year. Instead, a Saudi-drafted text was passed, which instructed the UN to assist an investigation authorized by the Yemeni government in exile.

Watch VICE News' documentary Yemen: A Failed State: