The death toll from the Saudi-led coalition airstrike on a prison operated by Yemen’s Houthi rebels climbed to at least 82 detainees, the rebels and an aid group said Saturday.
Internet access in the Arab world’s poorest country meanwhile remained largely down as the coalition continued airstrikes on the capital of Sanaa and elsewhere.
The airstrike in northern Saada province Friday was part of an intense air and ground offensive that marked an escalation in Yemen’s years long civil war. The conflict pits the internationally recognized government, aided by the Saudi-led coalition, against the Iranian-backed rebels.
The escalation comes after the Houthis claimed a drone and missile attack that struck inside the United Arab Emirates’ capital earlier in the week.
It also comes as government forces, aided by UAE-backed troops and airstrikes from the coalition, have reclaimed the entire province of Shabwa from the Houthis and pressured them in the central province of Marib.
Houthis there have for a year attempted to take control of its provincial capital.
Ahmed Mahat, head of Doctors Without Borders, a charity mission in Yemen, told The Associated Press they counted at least 82 dead and more than 265 wounded in the airstrike.
The Houthis’ media office said rescuers were still searching for survivors and bodies in the rubble of the prison site in the province of Saada on the border with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Turki al-Malki alleged the Houthis hadn’t reported the site as needing protection from airstrikes to the U.N. or the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The Houthis used the prison complex to hold detained migrants, mostly Africans attempting to cross through the war-torn country into Saudi Arabia, according to the humanitarian organization Save the Children.
The Saada attack followed another Saudi-led coalition airstrike Friday at the Red Sea port city of Hodeida hit a telecommunications center key to Yemen’s connection to the internet. Access to the internet has remained “largely down for more than 24 hours” in the country, advocacy group NetBlocks said Saturday.
The Saada air attack, one of the deadliest of the war, was not the first to hit a Houthi-run prison. In September 2019, an airstrike hit a detention center the southwestern Dhamar province, killing more than 100 people and wounding dozens.
Friday’s airstrikes in Saada and Hodeida have renewed criticism of the coalition from the United Nations and international aid and rights groups.
Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties, killing thousands of civilians. The Houthis have also launched cross-border attacks using ballistic missiles and explosives-laden drones on Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken urged the warring parties to end the escalation of fighting and attacks across Yemen. “We urge all parties to commit to a peaceful, diplomatic solution to ending the conflict. The Yemeni people deserve to live in peace and determine their own future,” he wrote on Twitter.
The latest escalation comes almost a year after President Joe Biden’s administration announced an end to U.S. support for the coalition and removed the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group as part of American efforts to end the grinding war.