Saudi Arabia and its allies have urged the United Nations to assume the control of a Houthi-held Yemeni port where scores of refugees were killed Friday in an aerial attack blamed on Riyadh.
At least 44 people were killed and dozens of others injured after an apparent Saudi airstrike hit a boat carrying Somali refugees near Bab al-Mandeb Strait.
Riyadh and its allies have denied carrying out the airstrike despite witness accounts citing an Apache helicopter – which is only used by Saudi Arabia in the war on Yemen – to have attacked the vessel.
The refugees had departed from the western port city of Hudaydah en route to Sudan when they came under fire.
The Red Sea port near the Bab al-Mandab strait is part of a broad battlefront where Saudi-backed forces are fighting the Yemeni army and its Houthi allies, which control most of northern and western Yemen.
Despite repeated assaults and heavy bombardments, Saudi Arabia has failed to wrest the control of the port and on Sunday it called for jurisdiction over Hudaydah to be transferred to the UN.
“This would facilitate the flow of humanitarian supplies to the Yemeni people, while at the same time ending the use of the port for weapons smuggling and people trafficking,” it said in a statement.
The humanitarian situation in Yemen has dramatically deteriorated amid a Saudi blockade, which has put the impoverished country on the brink of widespread famine. Last week, the World Food Program (WFP) warned that 60 percent of Yemenis, or 17 million people, were in “crisis” or “emergency” food situations.
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The Saudi statement on Sunday, however, did not address a call for investigation by Somalia which is part of the purported Saudi coalition waging the war on Yemen.
According to Iolanda Jaquemet, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, survivors have said they came under attack from another boat, after which “the crew used lights and shouted to signal this is a civilian boat.”
“Nevertheless, it did not have any effect and a helicopter joined in the attack,” she said.
Saudi Arabia has been leading a destructive military campaign against Yemen since March 2015 to reinstate former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and crush the Houthi movement.
The campaign has seriously damaged the country’s infrastructure. Local Yemeni sources have put the death toll from the Saudi war at over 12,000, including many women and children.