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UN secretary-general criticizes U.S., Saudi allies in Yemen

UNITED NATIONS — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in tart rebukes Monday, scolded the U.S.-backed combatants in Yemen for a brutal attack on a funeral party over the weekend and the deadlocked Security Council for its failure in Syria, where bombs rained on hospitals, furthering an already unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

“Saturday’s funeral bombing was a heartless attack on civilians and an outrageous violation of international humanitarian law,” Ban said outside the Security Council chamber of the attack attributed to Saudi-led fighters. “This was a community center known to all. It was crowded with families and children. Bombing people already mourning the loss of loved ones is reprehensible.”

More than 140 people are estimated to have died and more than 500 hurt Saturday in the funeral attack in Grand Hall in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, where a top rebel Houthi official was being laid to rest.

U.S. officials reacted to the attack by saying it was reviewing its relationship with the coalition embroiled in a civil war in what is perhaps the Middle East’s poorest country. Experts have said the war in Yemen has devastated an already destitute population.

“We are deeply disturbed by reports of [the] airstrike on a funeral hall in Yemen, which, if confirmed, would continue the troubling series of attacks striking Yemeni civilians,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Simon said Saturday.

“U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check,” he added. “Even as we assist Saudi Arabia regarding the defense of their territorial integrity, we have and will continue to express our serious concerns about the conflict in Yemen and how it has been waged.”

Simon said the United States has “initiated an immediate review of our already significantly reduced support to the Saudi-led coalition and are prepared to adjust our support so as to better align with U.S. principles, values and interests.”

The UN’s human rights chief called for an independent investigation of crimes that also include attacks on civilian targets.

“Since the beginning of this conflict in Yemen, weddings, marketplaces, hospitals, schools — and now mourners at a funeral — have been hit, resulting in massive civilian casualties and zero accountability for those responsible,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.

“This deadly attack comes just weeks after the UN Human Rights Council, for the second year in a row, dismissed my call to take decisive action to create an international, independent investigative body to look into extremely serious alleged violations of international law, including possible war crimes, in Yemen,” he said.

Ban had similarly tough words for the parties trying to resolve the Syrian civil war, which now is estimated to have killed 400,000 people in nearly six years of fighting.

Over the weekend, the UN Security Council deadlocked on a resolution, sponsored by France, which would have established a no-fly zone and reinstated a cessation of hostilities that broke down last month after only a week.

It was vetoed by Russia.

Another resolution, introduced by Russia for the same Security Council session and which would also bring about a cease fire, did not garner enough votes to pass.

Experts have said that Syria and Russia have stepped up aerial assaults dramatically in a bid to oust from eastern Aleppo as many as 1,000 members of Nusra Front, the al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist group in Syria.

The scorched-earth campaign has eviscerated the rebel-held city where buildings have been strafed. As many as 275,000 people remain trapped within city limits with no humanitarian aid allowed to come in.

Independent groups, including Doctors Without Borders, report appalling conditions and even attacks on hospitals, a clear violation of the laws of war.

“From October 6 to 8 alone, hospitals in eastern Aleppo reported at least 98 wounded, including 11 children, and 29 people killed by the airstrikes,” the group said in a statement issued Sunday, adding there are only 35 doctors left in eastern Aleppo and only seven of them can perform surgical operations on war-wounded patients, according to eastern Aleppo’s Directorate of Health.

“Wounded patients are sleeping in front of hospitals during heavy bombings because the hallways of the hospitals are full,” said Ahmed Laila, head of the department.

“The situation in Aleppo — again heart-breaking — and I was deeply disappointed when the Security Council last Saturday again failed to unite,” Ban said. “There is no time to debate and disagree. . . . This answer is evidently clear. They have to work to protect human lives, to bring this matter to a political solution.”

He added: “As [Special Envoy] Staffan de Mistura has always been urging and I have been urging to the Security Council, and also in public statements, that first of all there should be a cessation of hostilities. This is again very important, to build trust and confidence among the parties. And bombing, in Aleppo or elsewhere, must be stopped immediately. Let the negotiators, the Special Envoy, be able to convene this political dialogue. There is no substitute, no alternative to political dialogue.”


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