By Sami Aboudi
RIYADH (Reuters) – Air strikes by Saudi-led forces in Yemen that hit a school and a hospital are being investigated by a body set up by the coalition to look into civilian casualties, a spokesman said on Tuesday.
Ten children, mostly between the age of six and eight, were killed when their school in northern Yemen’s Saada province was bombed on Saturday, and 14 people were killed by a strike on a hospital run by Doctors without Borders in neighboring Hajjah province on Monday.
“Immediately, and as soon as the announcement from Doctors without Borders and from his excellency the U.N. secretary-general reached us, the team began its investigation as part of its responsibility and without waiting for instructions from anyone,” Mansour Ahmed al-Mansour told Reuters.
Mansour is a Bahraini judge who serves as a legal advisor to the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) which was set up in May by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman following an international outcry about the rising number of civilian casualties.
“We are collecting initial information and are in communication with the concerned parties to provide us with information available to them,” Mansour said.
A further nine civilians were killed by a coalition air strike on Tuesday on the home of a local leader of the armed Houthi group which Saudi Arabia and its allies have been fighting since March 2015 to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power.
The coalition says it does not target civilians and accuses the Houthis, who seized much of northern Yemen in a series of military advances since 2014, of placing military targets in civilian areas.
Mansour said the JIAT, comprising military and legal experts, including experts in international law from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar among other states, had powers to conduct thorough and transparent checks and issue its results without any outside intervention.
Earlier this month, the JIAT issued recommendations on eight previous incidents, including suggesting compensation be paid in one case and for the coalition to make sure it communicate warnings to international organizations operating in an area that was being targeted.
“The aim is to reach conclusions for the public opinion, and recommendations that the coalition may follow,” Mansour said in an interview.
“If there are shortfalls, we help reach lessons to be learned and avoid repetition of this shortfall.”
Investigators check aerial and satellite photographs, video footage and other evidence provided by non-governmental bodies and the United Nations, Mansour said.
He acknowledged that the team was restricted in its ability to conduct field investigations in areas under Houthi control and urged Yemenis to stay away from military targets and not to allow the Houthis to use their houses or property for military operations.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)