Meanwhile in Yemen…
The episode in early April of a poison gas attack in Douma, a city near Damascus, that led to a measured missile attack by the U.S., Britain and France, has understandably been the focus of media attention for the past two weeks. There is no question that the massive death toll and exit of refugees in Syria remain the major human tragedy today in the Middle East. But it is not alone.
The death toll from recent protests in Gaza has risen to 40 with some 5,000 Palestinians injured. In Afghanistan over the weekend a suicide bomber was responsible for the death of at least 63 people at a voter registration center in Kabul. Last Friday ISIS claimed responsibility for a car bomb that exploded in front of the U.S. consulate in Erbil, Iraq. Less than a week ago in Benghazi, Libya a high ranking military officer’s convoy was attacked by a car bomb that killed one person and wounded two others. In Mogadishu, Somalia at least six people died from car bombs on April 6.
Meanwhile in Yemen the killing is non-stop. Over the weekend three Saudi bombing runs took the lives of civilians, an almost daily occurrence. In one attack a wedding party in the northern Hajja region was bombed, resulting in at least 20 deaths. Most of the dead were women and children, including the bride. Some 45 were wounded, including the groom, including those with shrapnel wounds and severed limbs. It is reported that ambulances were afraid to approach the site since it is not uncommon for the jets to return and bomb the rescue workers. On Saturday a fighter jet of the coalition bombed a bus carrying commuters in the Mawza district near Ta‘izz; this resulted in at least 20 civilian deaths. Then on Sunday an attack on a house in the Hajja region killed five people. Hajja is no stranger to such bombings, as the hospital there was destroyed early in the war in 2015.
Death comes not only from the skies, but also from internal fighting. The terrorists of al-Qaida have engaged in attacks on government facilities in both the north and the south. One attack in late December was on a hospital, with footage of one of the terrorists throwing a grenade into a group of scared civilians (at 1:30 of the video), mainly women. The fighting in Ta‘izz has also led to many deaths. In Aden it is not uncommon for ISIS to claim responsibility for attacks on government troops. Then there is the silent killer of land mines, mainly laid down by the Huthi forces.
There are two dangers in thinking about these latest attacks on civilians. First, it should not be reduced to a numbers game. Higher numbers of casualties capture attention, but even when it is a small number the brutality of the event should not be diminished. Second, we in the West are sheltered in the news stories. We may read about the number of deaths, but rarely are we able or willing to see the tragic pictures of bodies torn apart and beyond recognition or pools of blood. Make no mistake about it, when a car bomb, suicide bomb or missile from the air goes off, the human body is no match for the devastation that will occur. Take a look at this graphic video and you will see the reality of the suffering.
Meanwhile there is no end in sight for the killing fields that are equipped with Western arms to the tune of billions of dollars. The massive level of arms sales are not just for defensive purposes, but used in offense as is clearly the case in Yemen. While Germany and Norway have stopped military sales to the Saudi coalition, the U.S., Britain and France are only too eager to assist the killing. Amnesty International has condemned the sale of arms that has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world in Yemen. While it is the case that all sides in the fighting have engaged in war crimes, only the Saudi coalition has air power and engages in daily bombing raids on Huthi-controlled territory. For the people of Yemen, the suffering is everywhere. And, meanwhile, the death toll rises every day.