Dozens of people have been killed when a Saudi-UAE-led military coalition battling the Houthi rebel movement bombed a prison in western Yemen, according to the rebels.
Yusuf al-Hadri, a spokesman for the Houthis’ ministry of health, said at least 60 people were killed in Sunday’s air raids which hit a complex used as a detention centre north of Dhamar city
Fifty people were wounded, he told the rebel-run Al Masirah TV, adding that 185 prisoners of war were being held overall at the Dhamar Community College.
Nazem Saleh was among those held at the facility. “We were sleeping and around midnight, there were maybe three, or four, or six strikes,” he told The Associated Press news agency.
“They were targeting the jail, I really don’t know the strike numbers … We were 100 persons on the ground level and around 150 on the upper level,” he said while on a stretcher in a local hospital.
Reuters news agency quoted Franz Rauchenstein, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Yemen, as saying more than 100 people were killed.
“There are three buildings hit and the building where the detainees were located, most of them or the majority has been killed,” said Rauchenstein, who visited the prison complex and hospitals in the attack’s aftermath.
“The prisoners in that facility were prisoners that we had visited in relation to the conflict.”
Earlier, Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam had said in a Twitter post that the toll was 50 people killed and more than 100 wounded.
In a statement carried on Saudi state television, the coalition said it had launched air raids on Houthi military targets in Dhamar and destroyed a site storing drones and missiles.
The Western-backed coalition, which has come under intense criticism by rights groups for air attacks that have killed civilians, said it had taken measures to protect civilians in Dhamar and the assault complied with international law.
Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a Houthi spokesman, told Al Jazeera those held at the Dhamar facility were awaiting their release as part of a prisoner swap with the internationally-recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
“The fate of many prisoners is not known,” Abdul Qader al-Murtaza, the head of Houthi’s national committee for prisoner affairs, told Al Masirah TV, with rescue teams unable to reach the area because of continued shelling.
The location of the detention centre was known to the International Committee of the Red Cross as well as the coalition, he added.
The ICRC, in a Twitter post, said it has sent a team “carrying both urgent medical supplies that can treat up to 100 critically wounded persons and 200 body bags” to Dhamar.
An ICRC team carrying both urgent medical supplies that can treat up to 100 critically wounded persons and 200 body bags to be donated is on its way to Dhamar province #Yemen following air strikes which are reported to have killed or wounded dozens of detainees.— ICRC Yemen (@ICRC_ye) September 1, 2019
Residents told Reuters there had been at least six air raids overnight on Sunday.
“The explosions were strong and shook the city,” one resident said. “Afterwards ambulance sirens could be heard until dawn.”
The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis after they swept Hadi from power in the capital, Sanaa, and most of the north.
With logistical support from the United States, the Saudi-UAE coalition has carried out more than 18,000 raids on Houthi-held areas in an attempt to reverse their gains.
In recent months, the rebel group has stepped up cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia.
The air raids in Dhamar come after the coalition has been distracted in recent weeks by a battle for control of the south, which has pitted Hadi’s Saudi-backed forces and southern separatists who have been trained and equipped by the UAE against each other. The war in Yemen, currently in its fifth year, has already killed tens of thousands of lives and sparked what the United Nationscalls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.