Houthi rebel fighters have taken up positions on the roof of one of Hodeidah’s main civilian hospitals, Amnesty has warned, as fighting in the crucial Yemeni port city intensified despite calls for a ceasefire.
The human rights group warned that civilians inside the May 22 hospital were at of risk of being hit by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike after Houthi militiamen set up a position on the roof.
“This is a stomach-churning development that could have devastating consequences for the hospital’s medical workers and dozens of civilian patients, including many children,” Amnesty said in statement.
The group warned that while the Houthis use of the hospital for military purposes was a violation of international law, it was not a justification for coalition forces to strike the hospital. “Anyone attacking a hospital under these conditions risks responsibility for war crimes.”
Fighting in Hodeidah has intensified in the last week as Yemeni government forces and their Saudi and UAE allies try to wrest control of the city from the Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran.
Dozens of civilians and combatants have been killed as coalition forces pound the city with airstrikes and push through its streets as part of a renewed offensive that began over the weekend.
The intensified attack came despite a US call for a ceasefire in Yemen within 30 days, followed swiftly by UN-brokered peace talks in Sweden.
The offensive by the Saudi-led coalition offensive appears to be an effort to improve the Yemeni government’s standing on the battlefield so it will be in a stronger position during eventual negotiations with the Houthis.
Both sides have expressed willingness to engage in talks but so far there has been no let up in the fighting. Previous rounds of peace talks have all collapsed.
The port city of Hodeidah is the main lifeline for food and humanitarian aid for civilians in Houthi-controlled territory in the north of Yemen.
Human rights groups have warned that fighting around the port threatens to plunge the rest of the country into even deeper misery.
Most of the population of Hodeidah has fled the fighting but around 300,000 people are believed to still be inside the city.
Around 14 million people – half of Yemen’s population – are on the brink of famine, according to the UN. More than 100 children are estimated to be dying each day as a result of disease and malnutrition.
Official estimates say that around 10,000 people have been killed since the war broke out in 2015 but the real casualty figures are believed to be higher. The vast majority of civilian casualties have been caused by the Saudi-led bombing campaign, which is supported by the US and UK.
Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, the Yemeni president backed by Saudi Arabia and the West, announced on Thursday that he was appointing a new defence minister and army chief of staff.