SANAA, Yemen:An airstrike by a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds more at a funeral Saturday, according to Health Ministry officials and medical groups. With the death toll expected to rise, it was one of the deadliest single assaults in the 20-month-old civil conflict that has fractured the Middle East’s poorest country.
Witnesses said at least three airstrikes hit the Grand Hall, one of the biggest arenas in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, as mourners gathered inside to attend a funeral for the father of a top rebel Houthi official. In attendance were senior political and military officials aligned with the Houthis and hundreds of civilians, according to witnesses.
As explosions rocked the hall at around 3:30 p.m., chaos ensued as people tried to rush toward the exits. Many jumped through a large opening in a wall that had crumbled, said Mohammed Ahmed al-Sunaidar, an Interior Ministry employee. He was just arriving at the hall and ran inside to help survivors.
“We carried many bodies,” Sunaidar said. “But we couldn’t carry the bodies that were completely burned. There were body parts scattered all over the place.”
Most of those who died, he added, were in the hall’s left wing, which was struck by one of the missiles.
Tameem al-Shami, a Health Ministry spokesman, said 104 people were killed and more than 550 were injured, many of them critically. Some news reports said the death toll had reached at least 155.
The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya satellite network, citing Saudi military sources, said the coalition did not stage the airstrike on the hall. But Saudi Arabia’s military have previously denied strikes on hospitals and other civilian areas that were later proved to have occurred.
The United Nations on Saturday “unequivocally condemned” the attack, adding that the death toll was 140, with more than 525 injured. It called for an investigation, saying it was “shocked and outraged by today’s airstrikes,” according to a statement by Jamie McGoldrick, U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Yemen.