Security chief says most of those killed were inmates, but Saudi-led coalition says building was command centre for rebel Houthis
The number dead from a Saudi-led coalition airstrike on a prison complex in western Yemen has risen to 58, security officials have said.
Abdel-Rahman al-Mansab, a security chief of the district of al-Zaydiya in the Red Sea port of Hodeida, said most of the dead in Saturdays airstrike were prisoners. They were among a total of 115 prisoners who were serving jail terms for minor crimes or who were in pre-trial detention.
The city is under the control of Yemens Shia Houthi rebels, who seized the capital and much of the northern region in 2014. The Houthi takeover has forced the internationally recognised government to flee the country and request military intervention by neighbouring Gulf states, which have conducted an extensive air campaign in Yemen since March last year.
The conflict has left more than 10,000 people dead and injured and displaced nearly 3 million Yemenis while pushing the Arab worlds poorest nation to the brink of famine.
Rights groups have accused the coalition of systematically carrying out attacks on civilians. On Sunday, the Saudi-led coalition said the prison complex was used as a command centre for Houthis.
Mansab denied that, saying it was a civilian site and added that the complex came under three airstrikes that killed the prisoners along with rescuers who came to help the injured. He said there were still bodies under the rubble.
Yemeni officials said at least 20 of the victims were anti-Houthi political detainees who were rounded up over suspicions of co-operating with the coalition.
Mansab said that the complex has two prisons, one for women and one for men, but there were no female prisoners at the time of the attack. When I went there, I saw a pile-up of charred bodies beyond recognition. They were burned to death, he said.
A medical official said nearly 60 other bodies were transferred to the military hospital in the city, suggesting that some of the victims were security personnel. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the press.
Hodeida is one of Yemens most impoverished cities. The Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly targeted its port, under the pretext that it is being used by Houthis to smuggle weapons.
The port serves the northern region, including the Houthi-controlled capital, Sanaa. The bombing of the port and a naval and air blockade imposed by the coalition have contributed to the increasing rate of food insecurity in Yemen, which imports 90% of its food.