Riyadh: The Saudi-led coalition on Sunday denied targeting a Yemeni school in air strikes that killed 10 children, instead saying it bombed a camp at which Iran-backed rebels train underage soldiers.
The coalition of Arab states has been battling Iran-backed Al Houthi rebels since 2015 when the insurgents seized Sana’a before expanding to other parts of the country.
Ten days ago it acknowledged “shortcomings” in two out of eight cases it has investigated of strikes on civilian targets in Yemen that the UN has condemned.
Coalition spokesman General Ahmad Assiri said the strikes hit an Al Houthi training camp, killing militia fighters including a leader identified as Yahya Munassar Abu Rabua.
“The site that was bombed... is a major training camp for militia,” he told AFP. “Why would children be at a training camp?”
Yemen’s government had confirmed to the coalition that “there is no school in this area,” he said.
Assiri said MSF’s toll “confirms the Al Houthi practice of recruiting and subjecting children to terror.”
“They... use them as scouts, guards, messengers and fighters,” Assiri said, noting previous reports from Human Rights Watch on the rebels’ use of underage recruits.
“When jets target training camps, they cannot distinguish between ages,” he added.
Assiri criticised MSF for overlooking the issue of child soldiers.
“We would have hoped MSF would take measures to stop the recruitment of children to fight in wars instead of crying over them in the media,” he said.
Saudi Arabia reacted angrily to a decision in June to blacklist the coalition after a UN report found the alliance responsible for 60 percent of the 785 deaths of children in Yemen last year.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon had accused Saudi Arabia of threatening to cut off funding to United Nations aid programmes over the blacklist, a charge denied by Riyadh.
Coalition states have formed a 14-member investigative team which has probed claims of attacks on a residential area, hospitals, markets, a wedding and World Food Programme aid trucks.
It found the coalition guilty of “mistakenly” hitting a residential compound after receiving “imprecise” intelligence information and offered compensation to families of the victims.
The team also held the coalition responsible for air strikes on an MSF-run hospital, also in Haydan, but accused the rebels of having used the hospital as a hideout.
The UN says more than 6,400 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Yemen since the coalition air campaign began in March last year.
The coalition meanwhile announced that Saudi air defences on Saturday intercepted a Scud missile fired from Yemen towards the kingdom.
Around 100 members of the Saudi forces and civilians have been killed inside the kingdom’s borders since the coalition campaign began.