Thousands attend funerals of children killed in Yemen bus attack

Thousands of people gathered in Yemen‘s war-ravaged city of Saada on Monday for the funerals of 51 people, including 40 children, who were killed in air strikes by a Saudi-UAE military alliance, backed by the US.

Scores of cars covered in green, which is a hugely symbolic colour in Islam, transported the victims’ coffins from a hospital morgue to a large square for funeral prayers, in a ceremony which was attended by several high-ranking Houthi officials.

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, who has a $20 million bounty on his head, slammed the killings as a “crime by America and its allies against the children of Yemen”.

The funerals were supposed to take place on Saturday – in Islam, the dead should be buried as soon as possible. However, the Houthis, who control Saada province and large parts of north Yemen, said such gatherings could be targeted by further raids.

WATCH: Funerals held for children killed in school bus attack (2:25)

Mourners carried pictures of the 40 children killed, while Al-Masirah, a pro-Houthi TV network, broadcast images of small graves being dug at a cemetery where the children were to be buried. 

“My son went to the market to run house errands and then the enemy air strike happened and he was hit by shrapnel and died,” said Fares al-Razhi, mourning his 14-year-old son.

“For my son, I will take revenge on Salman and Mohammed Bin Zayed,” he said, referring to the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

With logistical support from the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have carried out attacks in Yemen since March 2015 in an attempt to reinstate the internationally recognised government of President Abu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

In 2014, Hadi and his forces were overrun by the Houthis who took over much of the country, including the capital Sanaa.

Since then, the military alliance has carried out more than 16,000 air raids on Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, with more than 3,000 raids pulverising the Houthi stronghold of Saada.

The strikes have failed to reverse thei Houthis’ gains, and instead, made Yemen the worst humanitarian crisis in more than 50 years.

‘Tragic day’

Speaking from Sanaa, Hakim Almasmari, the editor-in-chief of the Yemen Post, called it one of the worst days in Yemen in recent memory.

“Today is a tragic, sad day … that has gathered all Yemenis together.

“There are many people who oppose the Houthis, including residents of [the capital] Sanaa, but a crime like this has given the Houthis more support.

WATCH: Yemen’s survivors on deadly bus attack – ‘We didn’t find any remains’ (2:20)

“You can’t have sides when it comes to children.”

Images and footage from Thursday’s attack provoked international condemnation after young survivors were shown covered in blood and reeling from shock.

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a “independent and prompt” probe into the incident.

While, Geert Cappelaere, the regional director in the Middle East and North Africa at UNICEF, said there was “no excuse” for the continued complacency towards the three-year war in Yemen.

The Saudi-UAE military confirmed carrying out air strikes on Saada at the time of the school bus attack, saying it had launched a “legitimate military operation” in response to Houthi missiles fired into southern Saudi Arabia the previous day.

The alliance said it would investigate the incident, but previous investigations have seen them absolve themselves of any real responsibility and instead pin blame on the Houthis.

More than 100 children protested against the air strike in Sanaa on Sunday with placards calling on the UN to defend Yemeni lives [Courtesy of the AnsarAllah Media Center]

Days after the attack, body parts remain unidentified and some families were still searching for the remains of their children. 

WATCH: ‘Where are my brothers?’ pleads Yemen school bus attack survivor (2:55)

Abdelhakim Amir said he searched the wreckage of the burned-out bus in the hope of finding some sign of his son, Ahmed.

“I just found some of what the child was wearing,” he said.

“I didn’t find any of his remains, not his finger, not his bone, not his skull, nothing. I looked through all the remains in the hospital and I didn’t see anything.”

The children were returning from a trip orgainised by a religious seminary when the bus was struck early on Thursday. 

In videos uploaded to social media, the classmates could be heard reciting verses from the Quran prior to the attack. 

According to Johannes Bruwer of the International Committee of the Red Cross, at least 51 people were killed in the raid, 40 of them children; and more than 79 were wounded, 56 of them under the age of 15.

US-bomb used?

Images sent to Al Jazeera by the Houthis on Monday suggested a Raytheon Mark-82 bomb was used in the raid.

While the photo had yet to be independently verified, fragments of Mark-82 bombs have surfaced repeatedly amid the ongoing war.

The 500-pound bomb was used in a 2016 strike on a community hall hosting a funeral. At least 140 people were killed in that attack.

Despite repeated petitions from human rights groups to Western powers over the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, the US, UK, Canada, France and Spain have all sold weapons to the kingdom in recent years, some of which have been used in the conflict.

The US has been the biggest supplier of military equipment to Riyadh, with more than $90bn of sales recorded between 2010 and 2015.

Since the start of the war, at least 10,000 people have been killed. However, this death toll has not been updated in years and is certain to be much higher.

In June, Saudi and UAE forces carried out 258 air raids on Yemen, nearly one-third of which targeted non-military sites. 

The UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, recently announced plans for negotiations between the warring parties.

The peace talks will begin in Geneva on September 6 and focus on building a transitional government and laying down arms.

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