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Saudi-Led Coalition Says It Bombed Yemen Funeral Based on False Information

A Saudi-led military coalition involved in Yemen's war acknowledged on Saturday that one of its jets carried out an attack on a funeral this month in the Yemeni capital, Sana, that killed more than 100 people and wounded hundreds of others.

The strikes, which hit Sana's fanciest reception hall while the prominent family of a rebel official was receiving condolences, were delivered on the basis of "false information," provided by Yemeni officials, that indicated the presence of armed rebel leaders at the site, according to a statement given by a coalition investigative body and published by the Saudi state news agency.

The attack was one of the deadliest of Yemen's war and led the United States to announce "an immediate review" of its support for the Saudi-led coalition that is bombing Yemen's rebels. It has also led to renewed calls from human rights organizations and some American lawmakers for the United States to halt or delay weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and its allies.

Human Rights Watch, in a report on the attack, called it "an apparent war crime" and "unlawfully disproportionate." Yemeni medical officials said after the attack that more than 100 people had been killed, while the United Nations put the death toll at more than 140.

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday that Houthi rebels in Yemen had released two United States citizens as part of an arrangement that included airlifts of Yemenis wounded in the funeral attack, The Associated Press reported. Mr. Kerry did not identify the Americans.

The Americans were freed and flown to Oman on Saturday night after Omani officials mediated their release, Reuters cited the Omani state media as reporting. It was unclear how long the Americans had been held and why the Houthis had decided to release them.

Yemen's conflict began in 2014 when the Houthis, from the country's north, allied with rogue army units and stormed the capital, pushing the internationally recognized government into exile. Last year, Saudi Arabia formed a military coalition that has been bombing the rebels, seeking to dislodge them from the capital and restore the government.

All of the warring parties have been accused of war crimes, including indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas and the recruitment of child soldiers. The United Nations says more than 10,000 people have been killed, and much of the country is short of food.

In the statement, the investigative body said it had examined the "unfortunate and painful event" and concluded that an unidentified party affiliated with the Yemeni military had passed along reports that armed rebel leaders were at the site, information "that later turned out to be incorrect."

A coalition jet immediately carried out the strikes -- before procedures devised to protect civilian sites had been followed -- based on the belief that the hall was "a legitimate military target," the statement said. It did not say which country had commanded the jet.

"The site was wrongly targeted, which resulted in the wounding and loss of civilian souls," the statement said.

While the statement did not name those believed to be responsible, it said that they should face "the necessary legal procedures" and that the coalition should provide "appropriate compensation" to the wounded and to the relatives of the dead.

In a separate statement, the coalition said it accepted the investigation's conclusions and would carry out its recommendations.

The statement made little difference to those who had lost loved ones in the attack.

"It was not a mistake," said Labib al-Maflahi, who was unharmed in the attack but lost two friends. "Even if they were given wrong information, they are supposed to verify intelligence. The could have easily verified it. They have people everywhere."

He said the possibility of compensation was unlikely to calm the anger at Saudi Arabia and its allies.

"Yemenis don't accept compensation," he said. "They want revenge."

There was no immediate comment from the rebels or Yemeni officials.

The statement was a rare acknowledgment by the Saudi-led coalition that it had struck a civilian site. It has been accused throughout the war of bombing markets, schools, hospitals and weddings without military justification. In August, the aid group Doctors Without Borders announced that it was removing its staff from six hospitals in northern Yemen after it blamed the coalition for bombing one of its facilities and killing 19 people.

The coalition has responded to criticism by saying the Houthis and their allies put civilians in danger because they fight and store weapons in civilian areas.

[Source: By Ben Hubbard, The New York Times, Beirut, 15Oct16]

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