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Airstrikes in Yemen Kill at Least 70 and Cause Nationwide Internet Outage

A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition launched airstrikes Friday in northern Yemen, killing at least 70 people and shutting off the nation’s Internet service.

The coalition carried out the strikes on Houthi military targets, including a prison and a telecommunications hub. Doctors Without Borders’ mission in Yemen said it had received around 70 dead and 138 wounded; the International Committee of the Red Cross reported that more than 100 people had been killed or injured in the prison center in Saada. Emergency workers are still searching for survivors underneath debris.

“From what I hear from my colleague in Saada, there are many bodies still at the scene of the airstrike, many missing people,” said Ahmed Mahat, Doctors Without Borders head of mission in Yemen, in an interview with the Associated Press. “It is impossible to know how many people have been killed. It seems to have been a horrific act of violence.” 

The airstrikes also hit a telecommunications building in Hodeida, impacting TeleYemen—which controls Internet service in Yemen and is under the Houthi’s authority—and disrupting Internet service for all of Yemen beginning around 1:00 a.m. local time. As of press time, service had not been restored.

“The Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthi rebels acknowledged carrying out ‘accurate airstrikes to destroy the capabilities of the militia’ around Hodeida’s port,” according to the Associated Press. “It did not immediately acknowledge striking a telecommunication target as…described, but instead called Hodeida a hub for piracy and Iranian arms smuggling to back the Houthis. Iran has denied arming the Houthis, though UN experts, independent analysts, and Western nations point to evidence showing Tehran’s link to the weapons.”

Reuters reports that the coalition “intensified air strikes” after the “Iran-aligned movement conducted an unprecedented assault on coalition member the United Arab Emirates on Monday and further cross-border missile and drones launches at Saudi cities.”

The Monday attack was launched by Houthi forces using drones to hit an oil facility in the United Arab Emirates—Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.—killing three people and exploding three tankers. Another drone attack is reported to have hit Abu Dhabi International Airport. 

On 19 January, U.S. President Joe Biden said he was considering re-designating the Houthi movement as an international terrorist organization after reversing his predecessor’s decision to place the Houthis on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist groups.

Timothy Lenderking, U.S. diplomat and special envoy, has also begun a new mission to the Gulf to restart the peace process in Yemen, according to a U.S. State Department memo obtained by Reuters.

‘The envoy ‘will press the parties to de-escalate militarily and seize the new year to participate fully in an inclusive U.N.-led peace process,’” Reuters reports. 

The conflict in Yemen began in 2014 when the Houthis—Shiite rebels linked to Iran—took control of Sana’a and demanded lower fuel prices and a new government. After negotiations failed, a Saudi-led coalition began launching air strikes against Houthi-controlled targets and implemented sanctions with U.S. support. The conflict is now considered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

“The UN estimates that 131,000 of the estimated 233,000 deaths in Yemen since 2015 are the result of indirect causes like food insecurity and lack of access health services,” according to the Council on Foreign Relations. “Nearly twenty-five million Yemenis remain in need of assistance, five million are at risk of famine, and a cholera outbreak has affected over one million people. All sides of the conflict are reported to have violated human rights and international humanitarian law.”