The ongoing conflict in Yemen was further inflamed this weekend after a missile attack on a funeral hall killed over 160 civilians, sparking outrage across the war-torn country.
Yemeni officials and witnesses are blaming the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen for the attack, which threatens to significantly alter the war’s course. The coalition initially denied carrying out the air raid but later released a statement on Sunday calling the bombing “regrettable and painful” and expressed “its deepest condolences and support” to the families of the victims.
The coalition also pledged an investigation.
With each coalition strike that kills civilians and makes international headlines, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies imperils their campaign to restore the duly elected government of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi as well as the support of key western allies.
After the attack, thousands took to the streets on Sunday to protest.
As a result of this attack, the United States will conduct “an immediate review” of its support for the Saudi-led coalition. “We are deeply disturbed by reports of today’s airstrike on a funeral hall in Yemen, which, if confirmed, would continue the troubling series of attacks striking Yemeni civilians,” U.S. National Security Council Spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement released on the White House’s website.
“U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check. 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.”
“In light of this and other recent incidents, we have 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, including achieving an immediate and durable end to Yemen’s tragic conflict.”
The State Department also joined the White House in condemning the attacks and urging a peaceful solution to the 18 month-old conflict. According to an in-depth report on the incident in the New York Times, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone on Sunday with top Saudi officials and called for an immediate “cessation of hostilities.” Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi deputy crown prince, said his government was prepared to “institute a renewable 72-hour cessation as soon as possible, provided the Houthis will agree,” according to the State Department as reported in the NYT.
The statement from the White House follows a tough political stretch for Saudi Arabia in Washington as a measure to block to the proposed sale of tanks to Saudi Arabia came to the floor of Congress in September, and later overrode a presidential veto to pass the controversial Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).
Iran, which supports the Houthi rebels and is a regional rival of Saudi Arabia, seized on the incident at the U.N. with the country’s foreign minister asking U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to use his “good offices” to arrange for an Iranian aircraft to bring humanitarian supplies to the attack’s victims, CBS News reported today. Mohammad Javad Zarif called the attacks ““tragic and horrific” and “called for Saudi Arabia and coalition supporters to be held accountable for the war crimes perpetrated in Yemen over the past year and a half.”
The attack threatens to galvanize the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and stall the next round of peace talks between the two sides.
On Saturday, a guided missile struck the United Arab Emirates’ HSV Swift, a high-speed ferry formerly operated by the US Navy off the coast of Yemen. The US responded with two guided-missile destroyers and an amphibious transport dock ship from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group, according to reports.
Then, on Monday, the U.S. Navy said missiles fired from rebel-held territory in Yemen landed near an American destroyer in the Red Sea.