Saudi Arabia and its allies have been hitting residential neighbourhoods in their bombing campaign in Yemen, according to residents and rights groups.
Dozens of Saudi jets began bombing the capital, Sana’a, early Thursday morning, with the aim of crushing the Houthi rebel movement that claimed control of the city in September.
A number of military targets were hit, but the crowded, low-income suburb of Bani Hewat near Sana’a International Airport was also badly damaged.
Yaser Al-Habashi, 53, a seller of Qat (a stimulant many Yemenis chew), returned home to his six children on Wednesday night. After going to bed, two huge explosions ripped through the house, destroying it and killing his entire family.
"By Allah, what has happened to my family and neighbours? Have they all been killed? Is there still anyone alive?" pleaded Al-Habashi, as he was carried out of the rubble to the Al-Thawrah public hospital.
Neighbours described how two initial strikes had hit the airport but two later ones had hit the residential area.
Ahmed Jawhar, 48, said he awoke after the first bomb to find his wall partially destroyed. He ran outside and saw a child crying in his neighbour’s house.
"I was trying to save my neighbour's four-year-old child, but the second one [hit their] house and the child disappeared," Jawhar said. The family of eight were all allegedly killed.
Amnesty International said at least 25 people had been killed in the bombings, six or more under the age of 10, but many more people may be buried under the rubble.
The organization spoke to medical personnel at four different hospitals and concluded that 14 houses were hit during the bombing.
“This high toll of civilian deaths and injuries raises concerns about compliance with the rules of international humanitarian law. Saudi Arabian and any other armed forces carrying out airstrikes in Yemen are required to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians,” said Said Boumedouha, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“This includes verifying that targets are in fact military and giving civilians effective advance warnings unless circumstances do not permit.”
The rights’ group confirmed that they will monitor future violations to see whether civilian infrastructure is being targeted.
Local government official Hamoud Al-Naqeeb condemned the impact of the airstrikes on civilians. He called on the state to treat the wounded and compensate the families of the dead.
Yet residents complained that they had been left to search through the rubble with little help from the authorities.
"The state's emergency and civil defense forces came in the morning, took the casualties on the ground and left without trying to lift the rubble and save more lives,” resident Mu'amar Sarhan said. “Instead the relatives and some of the inhabitants are trying desperately to find more victims.”
Throughout Thursday, hundreds of families were leaving the area amid warnings of more bombings that evening.
"We are leaving our house to [go to] our [home] town in Al-Taweelah, [in the western] Al-Mahwit governorate, after we heard warnings on some of the Gulf satellite TV channels, which told us [we had] until 9pm to leave," said Mohammed Ali Dhaiban.
Hopes for a quick end to the violence were quashed on Thursday night when the leader of the Iranian-backed Houthis, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, declared the country would be the “graveyard of invaders”. Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt have said they are prepared to launch a ground invasion if necessary.
Amnesty also called on the Houthis and Yemeni armed forces to protect civilians as the country slides towards full-blown war.
Saudi Arabia’s alliance includes other Gulf states, Turkey, Sudan and Pakistan. They have demanded the Houthis step down and President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi be reinstated. Hadi himself is believed to have fled to the Saudi capital Riyadh.
All flights from Sana'a, Hodeida and Sa'ada airports were cancelled after Thursday's airstrikes. Yet as night fell, the sound of fresh bombs again engulfed the city.