Starvation is still being used as a weapon of war in Syria, despite a partial ceasefire that was meant to ease profound humanitarian suffering and open a political path that could bring the war to an end.
Almost six weeks after the ceasefire was implemented, NGO officials say that neither goal is being achieved, and less aid is getting to areas that remain besieged by the Syrian government.
According to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the past two weeks have been particularly severe in opposition-held areas near Damascus where two hospitals have been bombed, the last remaining doctor in the nearby town of Zabadani shot dead by a sniper, vital medical items being removed from aid convoys and access to critically deprived areas remain blocked.
The UN is also reporting a worsening humanitarian crisis, with government officials routinely denying permission needed for trucks carrying food and medicine to enter the 15 besieged areas it controls across the country. Jan Egeland, special adviser to the UN envoy to Syria, said four of five convoys were not allowed to move in recent days.
“In two places where we were able to go to, Tiermalah and Afrin, some 45,000 people did get relief there,” said Egeland. “We have come up now to 446,000 people in hard to reach and besieged areas since the beginning of the year, but it’s not getting better, it is actually slowing down.”
The hard-to-reach areas are zones in which starvation sieges have been enforced by the Syrian regime or its proxies throughout the five-year war.
Three other parts of Syria are also besieged, two by Islamic State and one by Islamist forces north of Aleppo who have partially surrounded two Shia villages.
However, the opposition-held areas of Ghouta, Duma, Barzeh and Daraya on the outskirts of Damascus and Zabadani and Madaya, closer to the Lebanese border, remain the most seriously affected, with reports of new deaths by starvation and widespread malnutrition.
In Daraya, the remaining women this week wrote a letter urging renewed efforts to deliver aid. “There is no food at all in Daraya,” the letter stated. “There are cases of malnutrition and we have resorted to cooking soups made purely of spices in order to stave off hunger. There is no baby milk and no breast milk due to malnutrition. Even something as simple but as necessary as dishwashing liquid is unavailable. There are no cleaning supplies in order for us to ensure hygiene and keep diseases away.”
Syrian officials had pledged to allow more aid into areas it surrounds after the ceasefire announced by Russian president Vladimir Putin took hold. The ceasefire has led to a reduction in attacks, but excludes areas held by terror groups such as Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra. Opposition groups have also been targeted, especially in deprived areas.
MSF said two hospitals it supports in East Ghouta were bombed last week, killing 38 and wounding 87, including five medical staff. “The doctors we are speaking to have not received any aid in Daraya and Duma, they remain completely blocked from any official humanitarian access. Barzeh, near Damascus and Al Waer, near Homs also face repeated closure of access, said Dr Bart Janssens, the medical group’s director of operations.
“When convoys are getting through in other areas, the doctors we are working report that vital items such as surgical and anaesthetic supplies, blood bags have been removed. The quantities of IV fluid received are also consistently way less than what is needed.”
Peace talks are due to resume in Geneva this month, but are likely to remain deadlocked on the future of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, who opposition groups insist must leave before a political transition can take effect, but whose role, Russia and Iran say, is not up for discussion.
بينما تتلهّى الإدارة الأميركية في تسريب رواياتٍ عن رحيل بشار الأسد وترحيله ودائرته الضيقة، ومن وراء ذلك، تجري تلهية عالم غاضب يتشكّل من أوروبا والخليج والأكثرية السورية، تبدو الأمور تسير في منحىً غير مشابهٍ لهذه الروايات، ولا تتناسق معها، وهذه المقدمات تتناقض تماماً مع الإجراءات والترتيبات الحاصلة على الأرض. والعكس تماماً، فإن السياق الموازي الذي تصنعه روسيا وحلفاؤها، ميدانياً وسياسياً، يلح بشكل وقح وفج على استكمال تغيير المعادلات لصالحه. لا شيء يدعو إلى التفاؤل على جبهات الثورة السورية، ثمّة إدارة للمرحلة، تتم عبر استراتيجية تدرجية، تسعى إلى شطب الثورة من ساحة الفعل السوري، وتحويلها إلى تمرد سابق، وحالة عدم استقرار جرى تجاوزها، ويجري الأمر عبر تقنية تعطيل الأدوات التشغيلية للثورة، وقتل دينامياتها، وصناعة أمر واقع جديد من خلاله تتحوّل الثورة وأدواتها إلى جهة فاقدة المبادرة العسكرية والسياسية، فيما الطرف المقابل هو صانع التحوّلات والإطار القابل للفعل وللاستمرارية. دع عنك كل ما يقال عن تفاهم استراتيجي أميركي – روسي على إدارة المرحلة وتوازنات القوى. الواقع أن هذا التفاهم ليس فيه طرف يراعي الثورة السورية بقدر ما أنه يتعاطى مع الوضع بحرفيةٍ تقنيةٍ وحساباتٍ دقيقةٍ، تتعلق بعمليات تموضع استراتيجي، وإدارة للأزمة، وتتعاطى مع الحالة السورية بوصفها جغرافيا وديمغرافيا، يمكن التعامل معها كمقلب، وليس تفاصيل. هكذا هي في الجانب الأميركي، لذا تترك قيادة الأمور لروسيا التي تتصرّف بالتفاصيل، وتنتجها على هواها، والتي إن استمرت بتكتيكاتها ومناوراتها ستؤول إلى نهاية الثورة إلى الأبد. شكّلت الهدنة التي فرضتها روسيا نقطة انطلاقٍ صوب هدف وأد الثورة السورية، وإنهاء مفاعيلها، من خلال جملةٍ من الترتيبات التي باتت تشكّل البرنامج اليومي العملي والوحيد على الأرض السورية، والذي تتمظهر مخرجاته عبر طيفٍ واسعٍ من الأهداف، تمكن ملاحظتها على الشكل التالي: - إبعاد الأضواء عن الثورة السورية وعزلها عن دائرة الاهتمام الإعلامي الإقليمي والعالمي، ويبدو أن روسيا بدأت تحقق بداياتٍ ناجحةً في هذا الصدد، شيئاً فشيئاً يجري تهميش الحدث السوري واحتلاله مكانة متأخرة وهامشية في تغطيات الإعلام، وهو أمر يحصل أول مرّة، منذ بدأت الثورة السورية.
- محاصرة مناطق الثوار وقضمها الواحدة تلو الأخرى، فقد سمحت الهدنة لروسيا وحلفائها بإلاستفراد بكل منطقة على حدة، وتصفيتها تباعاً وتحويلها إلى جزر منعزلة ومفصولة عن بقية المناطق، وسمح هذا الأمر بنقل قوات الطرف الآخر من جبهة إلى أخرى، حسب مقتضيات العمل العسكري ومصالحه وأولوياته. - تثبيط الإجراءات الإقليمية، وتعطيل قدرة شعوب المنطقة وأنظمتها على التأثير بمجريات الأحداث، جميع أدوار الأطراف الإقليمية صارت محاصرة ومعزولة، وبدون أي فعالية، فيما يبدو أنه تمهيد لإخراج أوزانها التفاوضية من العملية السياسية. - تشريع الاحتلال الشيعي والتفريغ الديمغرافي، كل منطقة تخرج منها داعش أو يجري قضمها
تحت ستار الهدنة، يتم تطهيرها من السكان، وتصبح حقاً للمنظمات الشيعية، أو جزءاً من المشروع الإيراني، على غرار تحرير تدمر التي تحولت إلى عملية صيانة طريق إيران من العراق إلى سورية ولبنان، فيما يقتضي المنطق تفكيك الوجود الشيعي المسلح، أما تركه يعمل براحته يرسم مناطق النفوذ، ويمارس عمليات تفريغ ديمغرافي براحته، كما هو حاصل في القلمون وأرياف دمشق، فهذا يعني أنه مرضي عنه. - تعويد العالم على هذا النمط، ودفعه إلى الاستسلام النفسي الجمعي لمقولة أن الأسد أضحى واقعاًيتوجب التعود عليه ضمن المعادلات الجديدة، والأكثر الذهاب إلى دمجه ضمن جبهة الحرب على الإرهاب، وتحويله شريكاً أساسياً، كما تطالب روسيا علناً. - استثمار أعمال العنف في أوروبا، وانتظار ما تجود به داعش، كل عملية لداعش تخصم من رصيد نضال الشعب السوري، وتزيد أسهم بشار الأسد في البقاء، وتراهن روسيا في ذلك على علاقتها مع الأحزاب اليمينية المتطرفة في أوروبا، من أجل تعويم الأسد وإعادة تأهيله من خلال زيارات وفود هذه الأحزاب إلى سورية، والإطلالات الإعلامية الكثيفة عبر وسائل الإعلام الأوروبية. تعتمد روسيا للتغطية على هذه العملية سياسة التفاهم على بعض القضايا، ثم التراجع عنها، كلّما حصلت تطورات ميدانية، وتحاول فرض هذا الأمر واقعاً سياسياً لا يمكن تجاوزه، وكأن القضية ليست ثورة ومصير شعب، بل صراع عسكري، يفرض المنتصر فيه شروطه. وبذريعة الواقعية واعتماد مبدأ التدرجية، يجري حرف مطالب الثورة بما لا يمس هيكل سلطة نظام الأسد، وحصر مطالبات الثورة في قضايا إخراج المعتقلين، وفك الحصار على المناطق المحاصرة. وهذا يعني أن الثورة تدفع ثمن إنهاء الأزمة من كيسها ورصيدها هي. ولتحقيق ذلك كله، تعمد روسيا إلى تعقيد البيئة التفاوضية عبر استنزاف المفاوضين، وتشتيت انتباه العالم بما يضمن إضعاف القضية المركزية المتمثلة في الثورة على نظام مستبدٍّ، وتحويلها إلى قضايا متشعبة، مثل حقوق الأقليات وشكل الدولة السورية في المرحلة المقبلة، بالإضافة إلى ربط القضية السورية بملفات أخرى. الثورة السورية في خطر وجودي، يكفي أنه، حتى اللحظة، لا وجود لضماناتٍ برحيل الأسد، وإخراج النفوذ الإيراني، وتفكيك منظومة المليشيات الشيعية، وكل ما يجري ليس سوى عملية استنزافية لقدرات الثورة، وقضم لمجالها الجغرافي والسياسي، وكلام أميركي مرسل عن نهاياتٍ سعيدةٍ، لا مؤشرات واقعية عن إمكانية حصولها.
Editor's note: Marcel Khalife is a musician - a composer, singer and oud player - originally from Lebanon. His lengthy career has seen him teach at the prestigious Beirut Conservatory of Music, reaching worldwide popularity and fame with music characterised by the political poetry of dispossession and exile made famous by Mahmoud Darwish. He spoke exclusively to The New Arab.
You rose to fame as a protest musician in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, pushing for radical change, championing social justice and Arab unity.
Today, in the wake of the revolutionary winds blowing across the Arab world, we see revived authoritarianism, sectarianism, war and division. Is there hope amid the chaos? I see hope in creativity, in beauty. Without creativity, life will always be full of difficulties. Daily life is subject to ideology, but creativity is more free - music and songs do not submit to any ideology. The importance of creative and artistic work is the content that evolves a certain vision. As such, creativity is that artistic work which stands alone and has its freedom to communicate. If this message reaches the enemy then that is almost more of a success that communicating the message to a friend. Music can serve a cause but it cannot use the cause. You have sung some of the most famous odes to Lebanon and Beirut. With the country in such disarray and the whole political system so corrupted, how do you feel when you sing about your homeland these days? It is a truly lamentable situation that we have arrived at, and the reality we are passing though. But still we hold onto the dream and vision that we will move on from this place to what we yearned for in my music.
My music and my songs liberate me from this hopelessness. The source of these wars and this dark void is not just in our region, it is global. What is being weaved in small rooms for these people and these countries? Of course our region carries its own responsibility, but globally, what are we planning for this region? What is the vision?
Listen now: Marcel Khalife plays 'Rita'
Do you see the roots of real and sustainable change among the #YouStink protesters who have rallied against the political elites this past year? The people are agitating. They want to stand up and say "no" to all this despair that we are living in. They are calling out to say "no more". When you revolt against corruption and misery and against everything you are living through this has to be something positive. I look at it all with the view that it is pushing our means of struggle, our means of building a new and better society. During the #YouStink demonstrations there were occasions when protesters demanded the sound systems stopped playing your music. They wanted new music that reflected their voice.
Are you relevant to this generation of revolutionaries or do you represent a generation that failed and is part of the problem? Everything in life changes and moves on. There are always new phenomena and new personalities who are taking the music forward - and there is so much thriving in Lebanon and the region right now. As for the music I was making some 40 years ago, it remains prevalent because it does not belong to any one era or one place, but songs such as Rita, Oumi and JiwaazAs Sifar transcend the time they were from. It is music that enters into the depths of our humanity and it gave what it had to give. I know people who come to the concerts and the songs are older than they are, but they embrace the music and love it. Families - from grandparents to the young children - share in this music. For many people looking at the Arab world through the narrow lens of the media and news, the narrative is dominated by violence, conflict and migration. What is your role as a musician and artist in countering that? Music plays an important role that you cannot easily describe. It is deeper than something you can see or touch. People take from my music what they need, it can be spiritual, emotional - or something intrinsic to the individual. Music is a universal language and you can connect with and learn from people from any part of the world regardless of their language. I believe my new album Andalus al Hub is significant because it is pointing the listeners towards the most important cause, which is love. Not just romantic love but that universal love. The courage of this love - we can export it, make it resonate, realise it.
Palestine has often been a central theme of your musical work. With the region riddled with so much internal conflict has the Palestinian cause dropped off the radar? Without any doubt. With these wars engulfing the Arab lands, the Palestinian cause has been left behind. There were many platitudes offered to Palestine - but in many ways there has proven to be a lack of depth or substance to the Arab-Palestine relationship. In my reading of events, these wars are being waged to distract us from the issue of Palestine. The Palestinian cause remains the rightful cause and the primary cause. There needs to be a real uprising against the ongoing sufferings of the Palestinian people. We cannot solve our other problems if we cannot solve this issue. Some people say your continued success rests on nostalgia for ideas of 'The Nation' or 'The Resistance'… Is that fair? No, Not at all. I am much broader than that. There are works that don't have a direct political expression or nationalist idea. There are works that have value in their musical content, in their poetic content wider than specific labels.
Listen now: Marcel Khalife plays 'Jiwaaz As Sifar' [with subtitles]
You came to fame as a cultural figurehead for the resistance, or, 'al Muqaawemeh', a popular Arabic resistance against imperialism, Zionism and capitalism.
That whole term, 'resistance' has become intrinsically associated with Hizballah and as such is ensnared in the Syrian conflict. Do you still identify as being part of 'al Muqaawemeh'? All work that aims to move us forward is a work of resistance; whether it be musical, social, intellectual or poetic. Resistance is not just bound to the liberation of land. Everyday, I am striving for self-liberation, internal liberation, so I can then help liberate other things. I can not liberate anything else if I am not liberated. If I am in any resistance it is to carry this message, that to liberate the land you have to liberate the self first. How do you lend your weight to the Palestinian cause these days? Are there any movements - such as the BDS campaign - that you support? I am not in the media or a political person, I am an artist. I have another language, music and the Qaseda. If you put this work as an addition into the evolution of man then I never abandoned any cause in which I participated - and that includes the Palestinian cause. What is the central message of your new album Andulus al Hob? I wanted to dedicate this work to the memory of 75 years since the birth of Mahmoud Darwish. When Mahmoud and I were together in Paris, he said he wanted to show me something and he recited the poemAndalus al Hob. And then gave me a piece of paper, on which he had written: 'Marcel Khalife, you are my musical twin.' I wanted to repay Mahmoud Darwish with my love this year. This poem speaks about love. This is important because in this era through which we are living, the deafening monstrosity, the only way to face it is through this work - coming in a different language from a place far away from this world laden with screaming, violence and pain. This is Andalus al Hob.
ONE OF THE deadliest airstrikes in Yemen since a Saudi Arabia-led coalition began bombing the country used munitions supplied by the United States, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
The March 15 attack targeted a crowded market in the village of Mastaba in northwestern Yemen, killing at least 97 civilians, including 25 children. HRW said it found remnants of a “GBU-31 satellite-guided bomb, which consists of a U.S.-supplied MK-84 2,000-pound bomb mated with a JDAM satellite guidance kit, also U.S.-supplied.” The group said it also reviewed evidence provided by British news channel ITV, which found remnants of an “MK-84 bomb paired with a Paveway laser guidance kit.”
The report provides yet more evidence of U.S. complicity in the indiscriminate killing of civilians in Yemen. The Obama administration has been a key military backer of Saudi Arabia in its yearlong campaign against a rebel movement in Yemen known as the Houthis. In addition to billions of dollars in arms sales, the Pentagon has provided the Saudi-led coalition with logistical and intelligence support. Human Rights Watch said the U.S. role may make it “jointly responsible” for war crimes.
“The U.S. military has deployed dedicated personnel to the Saudi joint planning and operations cell to help coordinate activities,” the group’s report said. “U.S. participation in specific military operations, such as providing advice on targeting decisions and aerial refueling during bombing raids, may make U.S. forces jointly responsible for laws-of-war violations by coalition forces. As a party to the conflict, the U.S. is obligated to investigate allegedly unlawful attacks in which it took part.”
Since the conflict began in March 2015, more than 6,400 people have been killed, nearly half of them civilians, and more than 30,000 injured. According to the United Nations, airstrikes have been responsible for the majority of civilians deaths. The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of numerous violations, including the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools, and factories.
“The U.S. and others should pull the plug on arms to the Saudis or further share responsibility for civilian lives lost,” stated Priyanka Motaparthy, emergencies researcher at HRW.
The bombing of the market in Mastaba last month was perhaps the deadliest attack of the entire war so far. Journalist Mohammed Ali Kalfood visited the site after it was bombed and interviewed a survivor who provided a heart-wrenching account to The Intercept:
There were two big craters where the bombs hit — nearly full of ripped and charred bodies, and blood was everywhere. Survivors were in a frenzy; rescuers began to pile up the bodies, while the wounded were rushed to hospitals. Thank God, I survived unscathed. None of my family members were there at the time. But other families were blown up: Five brothers, who used to help khat sellers to make a living, were all killed in the strikes. When their old father, Hassan Kashoor, came to identify the bodies of his five sons, four of them could hardly be identified, while the other went unidentified. There were too many limbs and other parts of the bodies of those who were killed, so that the families could barely identify their dead.
Israel has militarily occupied the West Bank for decades (it’s also still functionally occupying Gaza, as this two-minute video proves). The West Bank “occupation is illegal under international law and the United Nations has repeatedly told the country’s government to vacate Palestinian territory.” Even ardent defenders of Israel admit that “the West Bank is under a legal regime of belligerent occupation” and “Israel’s settlement enterprise is, and has always been, grossly illegal under international law.” Despite this world consensus, Israeli settlements continue to grow rapidly. Israel is not engaged in any meaningful efforts to negotiate an agreement to end the occupation, and leading Israeli ministers now openly oppose such efforts.
For those (such as myself) who have long contended that the term “terrorism” now has little meaning beyond “violence by Muslims against the West and its allies,” and no purpose other than to delegitimize violence by one side while legitimizing the other side’s, can there be any better proof than this?
There have been Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians of course (while far more Palestinian civilians have died at the hands of the Israeli army), but in these specific cases, these Palestinians are attacking purely military targets, not civilians. Those military targets are soldiers deployed to their soil as part of an illegal occupying army. In what conceivable sense can that be “terrorism”? If fighting an occupying army is now “terrorism” simply because the army belongs to Israel and the attackers are Palestinian, is it not incredibly obvious how this term is exploited?
Needless to say, both Americans and Israelis (along with most others in the world) reserve for themselves the absolute right to fight against any foreign army that occupies their land. Indeed, Hollywood, in the 1980s, produced a film called Red Dawn, which imagined an occupation of the U.S. by the Soviet Union and its Nicaraguan and Cuban allies. It told the story of the heroic U.S. citizens, led by high school students, who waged a guerrilla war against the occupying troops, killing dozens upon dozens of them. Imagine the widespread confusion, and outrage, that would have resulted if someone accused the filmmakers of glorifying “terrorism” by demonizing the fictional American resisters as “terrorists”:
The film was updated in 2012 with a sequel depicting “one group of unlikely [American] heroes” who waged guerrilla warfare against North Korean forces who had invaded and occupied the U.S. (the film originally depicted these American heroes attacking and killing an occupying army from China, but, in post-production, the producers changed the identity of the occupiers to North Korean in order to preserve access to Chinese theaters):
When Americans resist military occupation by fighting against occupying troops on their soil, they are noble heroes. But when Palestinians do this, they are “terrorists.” This discourse, by design, equates Palestinians resisting occupation by fighting against an occupying army with al Qaeda and ISIS, and thus posits that any use of force by Palestinians to resist Israeli occupation — even when done on Palestinian soil, aimed exclusively at Israeli military targets there — is illegitimate.
So if violent resistance is illegitimate “terrorism,” what about other alternatives for resisting the decades-old, still-expanding illegal Israeli occupation? The nonviolent route embraced by Palestinian activists and their anti-occupation allies around the world is a campaign of boycott, sanctions, and divestment (BDS) aimed at Israel, modeled after the campaign that helped end South Africa’s apartheid regime in the 1980s (a regime that, just by the way, was a close ally of both the U.S. and Israel).
But there is a highly successful campaign by Israel and its U.S. allies not only to decree this nonviolent boycott campaign illegitimate, but literally to outlaw it. Official bodies are enacting rules to censor and officially suppress it by equating the campaign with “anti-Semitism” even though, as fervent Israel supporter Eric Alterman wrote in the New York Times this week, “it is filled with young Jews.”
So look at what has happened here. When Palestinians fight against occupying troops on their soil, they are denounced — and often killed — as “terrorists.” Meanwhile, nonviolent campaigns to end the occupation through a South Africa-style boycott are demonized as “anti-Semitism” and officially barred — censored — in all sorts of ways, in numerous countries around the world.
If fighting Israeli occupying forces is barred as “terrorism,” and nonviolent boycotts against Israel are barred as “anti-Semitism,” then what is considered a legitimate means for Palestinians and their allies to resist and end the decadeslong, illegal Israeli occupation? The answer is: nothing. Palestinians are obliged to submit to Israeli occupation in a way that none of the people demanding that would ever themselves submit to occupation of their land. All forms of resistance to Israeli occupation are deemed illegitimate. That, manifestly, is the whole point of all of this.
(Sanaa) – Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes using United States-supplied bombs killed at least 97 civilians, including 25 children, in northwestern Yemen on March 15, 2016, Human Rights Watch said today. The two strikes, on a crowded market in the village of Mastaba that may have also killed about 10 Houthi fighters, caused indiscriminate or foreseeably disproportionate loss of civilian life, in violation of the laws of war. Such unlawful attacks when carried out deliberately or recklessly are war crimes.
Human Rights Watch conducted on-site investigations on March 28, and found remnants at the market of a GBU-31 satellite-guided bomb, which consists of a US-supplied MK-84 2,000-pound bomb mated with a JDAM satellite guidance kit, also US-supplied. A team of journalists from ITV, a British news channel, visited the site on March 26, and found remnants of an MK-84 bomb paired with a Paveway laser guidance kit. Human Rights Watch reviewed the journalists’ photographs and footage of these fragments.
“One of the deadliest strikes against civilians in Yemen’s year-long war involved US-supplied weapons, illustrating tragically why countries should stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The US and other coalition allies should send a clear message to Saudi Arabia that they want no part in unlawful killings of civilians.”
Human Rights Watch has called on the United States, United Kingdom, France, and other countries to suspend all weapon sales to Saudi Arabia until it curtails its unlawful airstrikes in Yemen, credibly investigates alleged violations, and holds those responsible to account. Selling weapons to Saudi Arabia may make these countries complicit in violations, Human Rights Watch said.
On March 15 at about noon, two aerial bombs hit the market in Mastaba, in the northern Hajja governorate, approximately 45 kilometers from the Saudi border. The first bomb landed directly in front of a complex of shops and a restaurant. The second struck beside a covered area near the entrance to the market, killing and wounding people escaping, as well as others trying to help the wounded. Human Rights Watch interviewed 23 witnesses to the airstrikes, as well as medical workers at two area hospitals that received the wounded.
A United Nations human rights team visited the site the day after the attack and compiled the names of 97 civilians killed in the strike, including 25 children. The UN team said that another 10 bodies were burned beyond recognition, bringing the total number of victims to 107. Two Mastaba residents said that many members of their extended families had died. One lost 16 family members, and the other 17. A local clinic supported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) received 45 wounded civilians from the market, three of whom died and were counted in the total death toll.
A witness who helped retrieve bodies said that he saw the bodies of about 10 Houthi fighters, whom he knew previously, among those killed. He said that some armed Houthi fighters regularly ate and slept in a restaurant about 60 meters from where one bomb detonated. The restaurant was not damaged. He said some residents objected to the Houthis’ presence but were powerless to remove them. Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm these claims with other witnesses. The only Houthi military presence identified by Human Rights Watch during its visit was a checkpoint manned by two or three fighters about 250 meters north of the market.
On March 16, the day after the attack, the Saudi military spokesman for the coalition, Gen. Ahmad al-Assiri, said that the strike targeted “a militia gathering.” He also noted that the area was a place for buying and selling qat, a plant widely chewed in Yemen as a mild stimulant, indicating that the coalition knew the strike hit a civilian commercial area. On March 18, al-Assiri told Reuters that the coalition used information from Yemeni military forces loyal to President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi when targeting the Mastaba site. He said the Houthis “deceived people by saying it was a market.” A graphic forwarded to Reuters prepared by Hadi’s government indicated that the target was a military area where Houthi forces had gathered but provided no further detail.
The laws of war prohibit deliberate attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks, which are attacks that strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction. Attacks that are not directed at a specific military objective are considered indiscriminate. An attack is disproportionate if the anticipated loss of civilian life and property is greater than the expected military gain from the attack. The Houthis’ use of a building in the market as a barracks would have amounted to failure to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians under their control from the effects of attacks. However, this in itself would not have justified the coalition airstrikes as carried out.
Individuals who commit serious violations of the laws of war with criminal intent may be prosecuted for war crimes. Individuals may also be held criminally liable for assisting in, facilitating, aiding, or abetting a war crime. All governments that are parties to an armed conflict are obligated to investigate alleged war crimes by members of their armed forces.
Hadi’s government announced on March 18 that it had formed a committee to look into the bombing. Human Rights Watch contacted the Yemeni human rights minister, who said that a Yemeni national investigative body created in September 2015 and based in Aden was charged with the investigation. Findings have not yet been reported.
Since March 26, 2015, a coalition of nine Arab countries has conducted military operations against the Houthi armed group and carried out numerous indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes. The airstrikes have continued since the announcement of a ceasefire, to begin on April 10. The coalition, whose targeting decisions are made in the Saudi Defense Ministry in Riyadh, has consistently failed to investigate alleged unlawful attacks or to hold anyone accountable.
On February 25, 2016, the European parliament passed a resolution calling on the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Federica Mogherini, “to launch an initiative aimed at imposing an EU arms embargo against Saudi Arabia.” On March 15, the Dutch parliament voted to impose the embargo and ban all arms exports to Saudi Arabia.
Human Rights Watch and other international and Yemeni groups have called for foreign governments to halt sales and transfers of all weapons and military-related equipment to parties to the conflict in Yemen if “there is a substantial risk of these arms being used…to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law.”
The US military has deployed dedicated personnel to the Saudi joint planning and operations cell to help “coordinate activities.” US participation in specific military operations, such as providing advice on targeting decisions and aerial refueling during bombing raids, may make US forces jointly responsible for laws-of-war violations by coalition forces. As a party to the conflict, the US is obligated to investigate allegedly unlawful attacks in which it took part.
“Even after dozens of airstrikes on markets, schools, hospitals, and residential neighborhoods have killed hundreds of Yemeni civilians, the coalition refuses to provide redress or change its practices,” Motaparthy said. “The US and others should pull the plug on arms to the Saudis or further share responsibility for civilian lives lost.”
Market Airstrike At about noon on March 15, 2016, an airstrike hit the crowded market in Mastaba, in northern Yemen. It detonated in front of a line of shops selling groceries and household items, and a restaurant on the floor above the shops. Ali Ahmad Nahan, a secretary working at his home nearby, said he heard the sound of planes and ran outside. He saw two planes circling the market area, then saw an explosion. Approximately five minutes later, he said, he saw a second explosion.
Yehia Ali, 70, said he was in a restaurant across the road from the market when he saw two planes overhead. “The first strike hit here [in the market], right next to the tomato seller,” he said. “It threw people everywhere. The planes went west, circled around to the south, then came back toward us. Then the second [bomb] struck, and people were just finished off.”
The second strike hit near the entrance to the market, approximately 12 meters north of a covered area containing several market stalls. Ali Abdullah Bakily, a 19-year-old high school student, was sitting in the covered market. “People ran out of the market to the north after the first strike,” he said. “But those who ran north were killed in the second strike.” Bakily himself ran east behind the line of stores, into the village.
Mohammed Yehia Muzayid, a cleaner at the market injured in the attack, said:
When the first strike came, the world was full of blood. People were all in pieces, their limbs were everywhere. People went flying. Most of the people, we collected in pieces, we had to put them in plastic bags. A leg, an arm, a head. There wasn’t more than five minutes between the first and second strike. The second strike was there, at the entrance to the market. People were taking the injured out, and it hit the wounded and killed them. A plane was circling overhead.
I was helping to remove the dead, trying to pick a man up to see who he was. Then the second strike hit. Shrapnel hit me in the face. After the second strike, I just ran away. The shrapnel cut my lip and inside my mouth, I lost these teeth.
Sixteen members of the extended Muzayid family died in the attack, he said. The airstrike also killed 17 members of the al-Obeid family, another witness told Human Rights Watch.
Abbas Mastabani, 35, said he had parked his car across the street from the market and was approaching it to buy some goods when the first bomb struck. He was thrown to the ground, but was able to crawl back to his car to check on his four-year-old son, Majid. He said he crawled past bodies, limbs, and livestock until he reached his car, and saw a leg was wedged under the front tire. He pulled himself up and looked through the shattered front window but his son was no longer in the car. He then fled the site, terrified that there might be another strike and panicking about the fate of his child. When he got home he found that a friend who had been standing by his car had grabbed his son when the first bomb hit and taken him home.
Hamid Muhammad Yahya, 25, pointed to a red scarf hanging on the remains of the roof covering the patio of the shops and restaurant: “That is Muhammad Hussein al-Aslami’s scarf. He was a qat seller at the market. We found his body on the other side of the street, about 60 meters away.”
Three witnesses gave Human Rights Watch the names of relatives whose bodies they had not been able find even weeks after the strike. Ahmed Bakeel Abdullah, 50, a local sheikh, said that local residents found 48 body parts that they could not identify, and buried them in a pit just outside the village.
Several witnesses said that the wounded could not receive medical treatment for at least an hour because bystanders and emergency medical services could not enter the site, fearing additional strikes.
Othman Saleh, a Health Ministry official at the MSF-supported clinic in Abs, said that the clinic’s staff received 45 wounded from the Mastaba attack, one of whom was dead upon arrival and two of whom died over the next five days. He and other medical staff estimated that about a quarter of the wounded had been women, a quarter children, and a quarter elderly. Saleh said his team sent medical kits to Mastaba’s healthcare center and that residents there had treated a number of the wounded.
Previous Airstrikes in the Area Coalition airstrikes have struck the area in and around the village of Mastaba at least six times over the last eight months. Between July 16 and 19, 2015, airstrikes hit an Agriculture Ministry office, a newly constructed municipal administration building that had yet to open, and a storage hangar in the building’s backyard. Three more strikes hit the road next to the buildings as well as the local courthouse, damaging its outer wall. These government building compounds are about 800 meters from the Mastaba marketplace. One witness said that Houthi fighters had been sleeping in all three buildings leading up to the airstrikes, but he did not know how many.
On August 3, at about 2 a.m., a bomb landed next to a small shop across from a hut being used by the Houthis as a checkpoint along the road into Mastaba village. It did not detonate or cause any casualties.
Across northern Yemen, Human Rights Watch has documented airstrikes on 11 other marketplaces. On May 12, 2015, a strike on the marketplace in the town of Zabid, along the western coast, killed at least 60 civilians. A July 4 strike on the marketplace in the town of Muthalith Ahim in the northwest, 20 kilometers from Mastaba, killed at least 65 civilians. In the northern Houthi stronghold city of Saada, the coalition has bombed at least five of the city’s main marketplaces.
Coalition Airstrikes Generally Since March 26, 2015, the UN and nongovernmental organizations have documented numerous airstrikes by coalition forces that violate the laws of war. The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen, established under UN Security Council Resolution 2140 (2013), in a report made public on January 26, “documented 119 coalition sorties relating to violations” of the laws of war.
Human Rights Watch has documented 36 unlawful airstrikes – some of which may amount to war crimes – which have killed at least 550 civilians. Human Rights Watch has also documented 15 attacks in which internationally banned cluster munitions were used in or near cities and villages, wounding or killing civilians. Cluster munitions have been used in multiple locations in at least five of Yemen’s 21 governorates: Amran, Hajja, Hodaida, Saada, and Sanaa. The coalition has used at least six types of cluster munitions, three delivered by air-dropped bombs and three by ground-launched rockets. Human Rights Watch has said there should be an immediate halt to all use of cluster munitions and that coalition members should join the Convention on Cluster Munitions.