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Saudi warnings no justification for unlawful airstrikes in Yemen: HRW

Saudi Arabia’s warnings to aid agencies in Yemen to leave possible attack zones do not provide a legal basis for the kingdom to launch unlawful raids in those areas, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.

“A warning is no justification for an unlawful airstrike,” James Ross, legal and policy director at the HRW, said on Wednesday.

“They (the Saudis) can’t shift the blame for shirking their responsibility onto aid agencies that are struggling to address a deepening crisis.”

In a February 5 letter, the Saudi embassy in London advised the UN and other aid organizations to withdraw their offices and employees from regions where Houthi Ansarullah fighters and their supporters are active.

Saudi Arabia began its military campaign against Yemen in late March 2015. The strikes are meant to restore power to fugitive former Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a strong ally of Riyadh.

Since last March, Saudi raids have struck hospitals and other facilities run by aid organizations, according to a HRW report released on Wednesday.

Facilities of medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Yemen have been hit by the air raids several times.

On December 2, 2015, an MSF mobile clinic in the southwestern province of Ta’izz was targeted. One civilian was killed and eight other people, including two staff members, were injured in the attack.

Another raid on the northern city of Sa’ada targeted an MSF-supported hospital on January 10. Six people lost their lives and at least seven, most of them medical staff and patients, were wounded.

On January 21, a Saudi airstrike hit an MSF ambulance in Sa’ada, killing its driver and six other people, and wounding dozens.

The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen said in a January 26 report that it had documented 119 sorties relating to violations of the laws of war in Yemen. Among them were five on storage facilities for food aid and 22 on hospitals.

Elsewhere in its report, the HRW called on Riyadh to publicly retract the February 5 letter, take all feasible steps to minimize civilian harm, and facilitate access to humanitarian assistance.

The report also urged the UN Human Rights Council to launch an independent, international investigation into violations of the laws of war by all sides to the conflict in Yemen.

“Should the ground war heat up in Yemen, adhering to the laws of war will become even more complicated and necessary,” Ross said.

“The Saudis need to be crystal clear that they are doing far more to meet their legal obligations or civilians will continue to suffer unnecessarily.”

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