Friendly fire from a Saudi-led airstrike reportedly killed seven fighters loyal to ousted Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi on Tuesday, scuttling a planned attack on Houthi rebels in northern Yemen. The incident coincided with a United Nations (UN) report that said Saudi bombing has led to dozens of civilian deaths in Yemen in recent weeks.
In addition to the deaths in the north, strikes carried out by Saudi forces near the capital city of Sanaa mistakenly targeted and injured local Hadi allies while they clashed with Houthi fighters, according to tribal sources in the area.
A Saudi-led coalition began an air campaign in March against the Houthis, who captured large swaths of Yemen earlier this year. Saudi Arabia's military support has recently helped pro-Hadi forces capture territory — including the southern port city of Aden — and advance toward Taiz in the southwest.
In a statement on Tuesday, the UN reported a tally of 95 civilian deaths in Yemen in recent weeks, highlighting that 53 were the result of Saudi strikes targeting Taiz. The August 21 campaign took out 21 homes. Snipers linked to the Houthis were allegedly responsible for the remaining 42 civilian deaths.
On Monday, assassins on motorcycles shot and killed Rasheed Khaled Saif and Hamdi al-Shutairi, local military commanders whose forces have helped push the Houthis out of Aden.
No group has taken responsibility for the assassinations, but the killings have compounded the violence that has gripped the southern port city since the rebels retreated in July amid gains by pro-Hadi forces.
"This series of assassinations is really worrying us. There's a security vacuum, the people hope some kind of authority can be established and the police will be deployed so we can be put at ease," Mohammed Ahmed Salem, a local construction worker, told Reuters.
UN human rights spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly called the humanitarian situation "untenable," expressed concern about Houthi forces cutting off supply routes into Taiz. She noted that the city is critical to delivering aid and boosting commerce in Yemen, and that the coalition campaign there has complicated relief efforts.
"We are alarmed by the steep increase in the number of civil casualties in Taiz in recent weeks," she said. "We are also concerned about the near collapse of the health care system in Taiz where all six public hospitals are no longer operational due to the fighting."
Pouilly said the number of civilian casualties recorded in the period since March 26, when the fighting heightened, is likely more than the 6,631 officially reported — 2,112 of which were deaths.
The southwestern city also saw a spike in Dengue fever in August, with 421 cases reported as of August 25, up from 145 cases at the middle of the month. World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindmeier said life-saving medicines were being shipped to Taiz, but residents are still at risk of contracting other deadly illnesses.
"The risk of other communicable diseases like cholera also remains high especially given the poor water and sanitation conditions during this period," Lindmeier said.
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Reuters contributed to this report.
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