Yemen: Scores of civilians killed and injured by anti-aircraft fire and airstrikes on weapons depots
Scores of casualties in Sana’a have been caused by anti-aircraft munitions shot by the Huthi armed group which detonated after landing in populated areas killing and maiming civilians, said Amnesty International.
During a week-long trip to the Yemeni capital, the organization spoke to medical staff at nine hospitals and residents who said that anti-aircraft weapons were the leading cause of casualties in the capital. Saudi Arabian-led coalition airstrikes against weapons depots in residential areas have triggered further explosions, also killing and injuring other civilians.
“Sana’a’s residents are caught in a deadly crossfire between the Saudi Arabian-led coalition airstrikes and anti-aircraft fire from the Huthi armed group. Both sides have failed to take the necessary precautions to protect civilian lives in violation of the laws of war. Instead they have carried out attacks that have had devastating consequences for the civilian population,” said Lama Fakih, Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty International.
“For the civilians affected, it doesn’t matter which side is responsible. They pay the same price.”
A doctor at al-Thawra hospital, one of the largest public hospitals in Sana’a, told Amnesty International that the vast majority - around 90% - of war wounded patients admitted to the hospital had been injured by anti-aircraft fire. He said that before the five-day ceasefire last week around 17-23 patients with such injuries were admitted to the hospital daily. A second doctor working at the hospital also confirmed that the majority of the 1,024 wounded patients treated there during the first month of the conflict, had also been injured by anti-aircraft fire.
This was backed up by staff at the German-Saudi hospital and al-Mu’yyad Modern Hospital, where a doctor told Amnesty International that the majority of the wounded treated there were women and children suffering from fragmentation injuries caused by anti-aircraft fire.
"The sheer number of injuries caused by anti-aircraft fire in Sana’a points to a disturbing pattern of attacks in which the obligation under international law to protect civilians during a conflict is being flouted,” said Lama Fakih.
Amnesty International also met the parents of a child killed and four civilians who were injured by anti-aircraft fire, including a nine year old boy who was left with a broken leg and fragmentation wounds in his stomach, groin and foot.
Fatmeh, a mother of two, was injured along with her one-and-a-half-year-old-baby, when an anti-aircraft projectile struck their home in Sana’a on 30 March. She was left with several fragmentation injuries to her head, hand and body.
The parents of Karim Ali al-Sagheer Farhan, 13, described to Amnesty International how their son was killed by an anti-aircraft projectile on 27 April while he was leaving his home for the mosque for the noon prayer.
“I heard him scream Allahu Akbar and he was saying the shahada. I pulled my abaya on and then saw the neighbours taking him to the hospital…I knew it was anti-aircraft weaponry from the noise. There was no shelling that day,” Karim’s mother said.
The Huthi armed group’s apparent use of anti-aircraft weaponry which detonates on impact either with an aircraft or when it has landed, known as contact fuzing, or misuse of air-burst munitions, has killed and maimed civilians, and amounts to a failure to take adequate precautions to protect the civilian population, which is a violation of international humanitarian law.
Air-burst anti-aircraft weaponry is designed to detonate in the air, potentially reducing civilian casualties. Video of Huthi anti-aircraft fire taken in Sana’a on 20 May clearly shows that at least in some instances they are using air-burst munitions.
Amnesty International calls on the Huthi armed group not to use any contact fuzed anti-aircraft weaponry and to take additional precautions to protect civilians when firing other anti-aircraft munitions, including air-burst. The Huthi armed group and the Ansarullah political wing should also investigate cases in which civilians have reportedly been harmed by their anti-aircraft weaponry and compensate those who have been harmed, including by paying for medical treatment and to repair damaged property.
Airstrikes on weapons depots
Many of the other civilian victims in the hospitals Amnesty International visited were injured by secondary explosions when attacks by Saudi Arabian-led coalition aircraft struck a weapons cache in the Mount Nuqum neighbourhood on 11 May.
Amnesty International interviewed four residents of Mount Nuqum who witnessed the attack and seven others who were injured in secondary explosions caused by the air strikes, including four children and two women. One of the women interviewed said that her son was killed in the same blast that had injured her. Around 40 people were killed in the strike according to the Ministry of Health, although Amnesty International could not independently verify this figure. Nearly 140 people injured in the attack were admitted for treatment at al-Thawra and Kuwait hospitals according to hospital staff and records.
Scores of residents were also injured in an earlier airstrike on a weapons depot in Faj ‘Attan, on the outskirts of Sana’a, on 20 April.
All of the residents affected by the Mount Nuqum or Faj ‘Attan blasts told Amnesty International that no advance warning was given by coalition forces of an impending attack despite the apparent feasibility of such warnings and the likelihood that civilians living in such close proximity to the known storage facilities would be injured by secondary blasts. Failing to give an effective advance warning under these circumstances is a violation of the rules of international humanitarian law. The extensive harm to the civilian population resulting from these attacks also raises concerns about the proportionality of these strikes.
Amnesty International calls on Saudi Arabia and other coalition states involved in the airstrikes to take all feasible precautions to minimize the risks posed to civilians, as required by international humanitarian law. This includes cancelling or suspending an attack if it becomes apparent that the target is not military or that the attack is likely disproportionate; and giving effective advance warning of attacks which may affect civilians, unless circumstances do not permit. The Huthi armed group should also move its military positions away from populated civilian areas where feasible, Amnesty International said.
Given the mounting casualties in Yemen, Amnesty International is also calling on all states supplying weapons, ammunition, training or any other military technology/assistance to Saudi Arabia to exercise extreme caution and demonstrate that any military transfers will not fuel further civilian deaths and injuries.
“As airstrikes and anti-aircraft fire resume across Yemen, the number of civilian casualties is already beginning to rise,” said Lama Fakih.
“So far both sides have displayed a chilling indifference to the deadly impact of their actions on civilians. All parties to the conflict can and should take all feasible steps to minimize the risk to civilians.”
Coalition airstrikes have caused hundreds of civilian deaths since they began on 25 March 2015. Amnesty International has documented a number of cases in which airstrikes may have violated the rules of international humanitarian law.
Civilians injured or killed by anti-aircraft fire
30 March, Sa’wan neighbourhood, Sana’a
Amnesty International spoke with Fatmeh, 24, a mother of two who was injured along with her one and a half year old child on 30 March by an anti-aircraft projectile that hit their home in Sa’wan, Sana’a. At around 9pm a projectile struck their home injuring both of them. She had fragmentation injuries in her right hand, right armpit, and head. Her son suffered from fragmentation injuries to the head and to his hand. Her son had two operations to treat his injuries, her family could not afford to cover the costs of surgery to remove the fragments lodged in her head. She told Amnesty International that she was suffering from debilitating headaches, at times causing her to lose her sight, as a result. Amnesty International visited their home and observed the damage caused by the projectile. The physical evidence was consistent with an anti-aircraft strike.
Fatmeh’s husband also told Amnesty International that in the days he spent with his son while he was recovering in the al-Thawra hospital more than 10 people came into the emergency room every day who were suffering from anti-aircraft projectile injuries.
27 April, Shumaylah neighbourhood, Sana’a
Amnesty International also spoke with the parents of Karim Ali al-Sagheer Farhan, 13, who was killed by an anti-aircraft projectile on 27 April. Karim’s mother, who was home at the time of the strike, said that at 12pm she heard an anti-aircraft projectile strike in front of the house and then heard her son cry out: “I heard him scream Allahu Akbar and he was saying the shahada. I pulled my abaya on and then saw the neighbours taking him to the hospital…I knew it was anti-aircraft weaponry from the noise. There was no shelling that day,” she said.
Karim’s mother and father went to the Yemen Jordan hospital where they were told by doctors and neighbours that their son had a shrapnel injury to the stomach and would need to undergo an operation. Karim’s father told Amnesty International that he was certain the injury was caused by an anti-aircraft projectile. Describing what happened, he said:
“[Karim] was at the gate of the house going to the mosque for the noon prayer. The anti-aircraft projectile failed to detonate in the sky and hit the ground and his stomach was hit with shrapnel…he went into surgery, but didn’t survive. From the impact of the strike and what people said who were at the site after he was injured we knew it was an anti-aircraft weapon. The whole area heard the explosion. There were no airstrikes here... A second shell hit the roof on Monday but it didn’t detonate.”
Karim’s father showed Amnesty International the projectile that hit the roof. He said the anti-aircraft fire was coming from Jabal al-Nahdayn, a Huthi armed group stronghold. He also provided Amnesty International with a copy of Karim’s medical records which stated he was injured by anti-aircraft fire.
5 May, Beit Baws neighbourhood, Sana’a
On 5 May at around 11AM, on his walk home from work, Sameer, 50, was injured by an anti-aircraft projectile on 50 Meter Road at a qat market in the Beit Baws area, his relative told Amnesty International. Sameer, who was badly injured in the attack, was still recovering in the intensive care unit at the al-Thawra hospital nearly two weeks after the incident. His relative, who visited him in the Essra’ Hospital where he was taken directly after the attack said that several other men were injured in the same incident and that he saw them at the hospital. He told Amnesty International that that day there were no airstrikes in the area, but that there was anti-aircraft fire.
6 May, Mount Nuqum neighbourhood, Sana’a
Amnesty International visited, Salah, 9, in the al-Thawra hospital where he was recovering from injuries sustained from an anti-aircraft projectile on 6 May. His left leg was broken and he had fragmentation injuries to his stomach, groin, and right foot. Salah’s uncle, who was with him in the hospital, told Amnesty International that Salah was injured while in Mount Nuqum, where he lives, on 6 May. He said that at the time Salah was in the street with his siblings and cousins.
“We were playing [in the street]” Salah said. “It was 5PM, prayer time. The plane was there and they tried to hit it with the Raja [anti-aircraft weaponry].”
Salah’s uncle told Amnesty International that anti-aircraft fire was a regular occurrence in their neighbourhood. “They are always striking [this area],” he said. “We’ve started to know from the remnants when it is a Raja [anti-aircraft weaponry]…two weeks before another boy and an older man were also injured by a Raja.” He was optimistic that Salah would be walking again in one month
5 or 6 May, Damar al-Ghar neighbourhood, Sana’a
Amnesty International spoke to Amal, a woman from the Damar al-Ghar neighbourhood who was recovering from injuries at the al-Thawra hospital from an anti-aircraft projectile that hit the neighbourhood 10 or 11 days before. Amal said that she was getting kids from the family together to leave the area when the projectile struck, injuring her near a school in her neighbourhood. She said that they heard the plane overhead but she did not see it, and that no airstrikes struck the neighbourhood that day.
Mount Nuqum, airstrike on weapons depot on 11 May 2015
Ahmad, a resident of Mount Nuqum present during the airstrike early in the evening on 11 May 2015, told Amnesty International that he heard four large explosions following aerial attacks. The airstrikes hit a weapons cache in the mountain which then set off a series of secondary explosions and projectiles. Ahmad said that the secondary projectiles continued to go off until 7am the next day. He said that anti-aircraft weapons that had been stored in the mountain were “dropping like rain” on the neighbourhood. Ahmad estimated that the weapons cache was about 200-250 meters away from the homes in the congested residential area.
One of the residents injured in the secondary blasts was Bassel, a 16-year-old resident of Mount Nuqum who was helping to evacuate women from the area after the strikes had started. He told Amnesty International:
“I was trying to evacuate women from the area just before the strike at 6:30pm. We were in front of the Ghamdan School with our relatives. There were no fighters there. People were running away. I was walking when I was hit. One guy came in a car and took me to the hospital. My mom was also hit with shrapnel.”
Bassel’s right leg was amputated below the knee as a result of his injury.
Amnesty International also met Firas, a four year old who was injured in his home near to Mount Nuqum on 11 May from a secondary explosion, and spoke to a relative who was with him at the hospital. Firas’ left hand and right leg had been injured by shrapnel. His mother, the relative told us, also had a fragmentation injury to her face.
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