SAADA (Reuters) – Thousands of mourners on Monday buried dozens of children killed in a Saudi-led coalition air strike on a bus in northern Yemen, one of the deadliest attacks on civilians in the three-year-old war.
At least 40 children were killed in Thursday’s strike, which hit the bus as it drove through a market in Dahyan, a town in Saada, the armed Houthi group which controls the province said.
Amid outrage from international human rights groups and UN officials, Riyadh continued to defend the raid as a “legitimate military action” intended to hit Houthi leaders, a day after it authorised a coalition investigation of the strike.
Wooden coffins, most with a picture of a child, were taken by cars and carried by pall bearers to a graveyard from a square where prayers were held earlier. “Death to America, death to Israel,” the crowd chanted, echoing the Houthis’ slogan.
The shrouded bodies were removed from the coffins and placed in a row of unmarked graves that had been dug on Friday.
The Gulf Arab states are leading the alliance of Sunni Muslim countries that intervened in Yemen’s war in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognised government that was expelled from the capital Sanaa by the Houthis in 2014.
The coalition said on Friday it would investigate the strike after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack and called for an independent probe.
But on Saturday, state news agency SPA said Riyadh’s mission to the world body delivered a message to Mr Guterres reiterating that the raid was “legitimate” and targeted Houthi leaders “responsible for recruiting and training young children”.
The coalition initially said after the attack that the strike had targeted missile launchers that were used by the Houthis to attack the southern Saudi province of Jizan.
The Houthis’ health minister Taha Mutawakil said last week that the number of casualties stood at 51 killed including 40 children, and at least 79 people wounded of whom 56 were children. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported the same toll on Friday, citing authorities in Saada.
A US military spokeswoman said US forces were not involved in Thursday’s air strike. The US State Department urged the alliance to “conduct a thorough and transparent investigation”.