JEDDAH: A joint investigation team on Saturday found that the Saudi-led Coalition bombed a funeral ceremony in Sanaa last week based on wrong information that the hall was packed with Houthi leaders.
Some 140 people were killed in the bombing and more than 600 were wounded in the air strike on Oct. 8, prompting condemnations.
The Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) said the wrong information was provided by “a party affiliated to the Yemeni Presidency of the General Chief of Staff.”
It said the information claimed that there was a gathering of armed Houthi leaders “and insisted that the location be targeted immediately as a legitimate military target,” the investigators said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
JIAT is an oversight body composed of representatives from coalition states, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Yemen, created in January to look into complaints about the coalition’s conduct in its “Decisive Storm” campaign in Yemen.
The report said the Air Operation Center in Yemen directed a “close air support mission” to target the site without getting approval from the coalition’s command, a violation of protocol.
"Because of non-compliance with coalition rules of engagement and procedures, and the issuing of incorrect information, a coalition aircraft wrongly targeted the location, resulting in civilian deaths and injuries," the report said.
It called for a review of rules of engagement and compensation for the families of victims.
Houthis and the group of former Yemen president Abdullah Saleh have seized on the bombing incident to discredit the Coalition, which had intervened in Yemen in April 2015 to restore the UN-recognized government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
The investigation said the source of the information insisted the location was “a legitimate military target.” A number of Houthi leaders were said to be among those killed or wounded in the funeral, which was of the father of a senior Houthi rebel commander.
Nonetheless, the JIAT said “appropriate action must be taken against those who caused the incident.”
JIAT’s statement said the team is “still gathering and analyzing data related to the incident, namely reports about some sides that used this erroneous bombing to increase the number of victims, in coordination with the relevant agencies of the legitimate Yemeni government and concerned states, and will announce the results as soon as its investigations are complete.”
The Hadi government has yet to publicly comment on the October 8 bombing.
Yemen’s chief of staff is Maj. Gen. Mohammed Ali Al-Maqdishi, a close ally of the powerful army general Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, now serving as vice president.
Coalition accepts JIAT findings
In a statement on SPA, the Coalition Forces Command said it had examined the results of the JIAT investigation into the Great Hall incident and “affirms that it accepts the results of the investigation, and has begun to implement the JIAT's recommendations.”
“The coalition command expresses its regret at this unintentional incident and the ensuing pain for victims' families. The incident is not in line with the coalition's objectives, namely protecting civilians and restoring safety and stability to Yemen.” the statement said.
In a letter to the United Nations Security Council last weekend, Saudi Arabia expressed “deep regret" over the attack.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman subsequently directed the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Aid (KSRelief) to coordinate with the Arab coalition, the legitimate Yemeni government, and UN organizations to facilitate the transfer abroad of the injured who need to be treated in the funeral bombing.
KSRelief has been instructed to allocate the amount of SR200 million for the operation, with Sudan as the possible host country to treat the wounded.
An Agence France Presse report on Saturday said an Omani aircraft landed in the rebel-held Yemeni capital on Saturday to evacuate 115 of the most seriously wounded, but it was not clear whether the treatment would be done in Sudan or Oman.
Oman is the only Gulf Arab state that is not part of the coalition fighting the Houthi rebels and has previously organized evacuations from Sanaa of Westerners and others who had been detained by the insurgents.
The Omani aircraft also flew home to Sanaa the rebel negotiating team which had been stranded in the sultanate’s capital Muscat since the collapse of UN-brokered peace talks in Kuwait in August because of the air blockade, said the report.