SANAA: Children of Yemen’s minority group known as ‘Muhamasheen’-literally the ‘Marginalized’ are pictured at a slum in the capital Sanaa. – AFP

SANAA: At least a dozen people, including five children, were killed on Wednesday in an air strike in Yemen’s northern Al-Jawf province, government and medical sources said. “At least 12 people, including four women and five children, were accidentally killed in the city of Al-Hazm,” about 100 kilometers northeast of the capital Sanaa, a government said. Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014 that pits the government-backed by a Saudi-led military coalition that provides air support-against Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who control much of the north, including the capital.

The government source added that the strike landed in a residential area about three kilometers from a battlefront between the Houthis and pro-government forces. Medical sources confirmed that at least 12 people were killed, among them women and children. Rebels blamed the deaths on the Saudi-led coalition, which has not yet commented on the incident. The strike came days after the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said seven children and two women had been killed in an air raid on Sunday in the northwest governorate of Hajjah.

Another two women and two children were wounded in the strike, according to OCHA. UN experts have accused both sides in Yemen’s five-year-old conflict of war crimes. The Norwegian Refugee Council said in a statement on Wednesday that “bombings by the Saudi-led coalition have reached an intensity not seen in two years and missiles fired by (the Houthis) into Saudi Arabia have also increased”.

It urged the UN to act and called for an “immediate independent investigation”. On Monday, the Saudi-led coalition acknowledged the possibility of civilian casualties during an anti-Houthi operation in Hajjah and said it was being investigated. It also said its forces had “intercepted and destroyed seven drones and four ballistic missiles” launched by the Houthis against civilians in Saudi Arabia. Yemen’s war escalated in March 2015 when the coalition intervened against the rebels. Tens of thousands have been killed since then in what the UN has described as the world worst humanitarian crisis.

UN fears ‘catastrophe’
In another development, the United Nations held an unusual session Wednesday to express fears of “catastrophe” if a decaying oil tanker abandoned off Yemen’s coast with 1.1 million barrels of crude on board ruptures into the Red Sea. A breach of the 45-year-old FSO Safer, anchored off the port of Hodeida, would have disastrous results for marine life and tens of thousands of impoverished people who depend on fishing for their livelihood.

The UN Security Council said it had sent details of a plan for an inspection team to conduct light repairs and determine the next steps to the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who control Hodeida, on Tuesday. On Sunday, the UN said the Houthis had agreed in principle to the assessment. But they did the same in the summer of 2019, only to cancel a UN mission from Djibouti at the last minute. The tanker’s “condition is deteriorating daily, increasing the potential for an oil spill,” Inger Andersen, head of the United Nations Environment Program, told the Council.

“Time is running out for us now to act in a coordinated manner to prevent a looming environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe,” she said. The Security Council issued a communique expressing its “deep alarm at the growing risk,” and called on the Houthis to move ahead with granting access to the tanker “as soon as possible.” Effectively a floating storage platform, the Safer has had virtually no maintenance for five years since war broke out in the country where the Houthis have seized much of the north from the internationally recognized government.

The tanker could break up or explode, causing a disaster that experts have said could take up to 30 years for the area’s ecology to recover from. A leak in the engine room had been plugged in May, but the British mission to the UN insisted that “a permanent solution is urgently needed.” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said he hoped a UN assessment mission would be carried out “within the next few weeks.”

“I have briefed you 15 times over the last 15 months on the Safer tanker,” he added, hinting at frustration over the lack of action. Like other economic and aid issues in Yemen, the plight of the tanker has become a bargaining chip, with the Houthis accused of using the threat of disaster to secure control of the value of the cargo. In June, the Houthis said they wanted guarantees the vessel would be repaired and that the value of the oil on board used to pay salaries of their employees. – Agencies