…Israel orders ‘strong action’ against Hamas as rocket fire from Gaza persists***
At least 29 children have been killed and 30 wounded in a Saudi-led coalition air strike in Yemen, the International Committee of the Red Cross says.
The children were travelling on a bus that was hit at a market in Dahyan, in the northern province of Saada.
The health ministry run by the rebel Houthi movement put the death toll at 43, and said 61 people were wounded.
The coalition, which is backing Yemen’s government in a war with the Houthis, said its actions were “legitimate”.
It insists it never deliberately targets civilians, but human rights groups have accused it of bombing markets, schools, hospitals and residential areas.
Meanwhile the new UN special envoy to Yemen, former British diplomat Martin Griffiths, is planning to invite the warring parties to Geneva in September to discuss a framework for negotiations.
He told the BBC’s Lyse Doucet that if the conflict is left unresolved, Yemen could collapse and the international community could be looking at “Syria-plus” in the years to come.
“The war in Yemen will get more complicated the longer it goes on. There will be more international interest and polarisation in terms of the parties, it will fragment further, it will be more difficult to resolve – even more than it is now.”
What happened in Saada?
Yemeni tribal elders told the Associated Press that the bus was hit as it passed through Dahyan market and that it was transporting local civilians, including many school children.
The charity Save the Children said it had been told by its staff that the children were on their way back to school from a picnic when the driver of their bus stopped to get a drink.
The vehicle was stationary when the attack happened, it added.
The ICRC said a hospital it supported in Saada had received the bodies of 29 children, all of them under the age of 15, and 48 injured people, among them 30 children.
It sent additional supplies to the hospital to cope with the influx of patients.
Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported that 47 people were killed and 77 wounded, and broadcast graphic pictures showing the bodies of several young children, some of them wearing school uniform.
What has been the reaction?
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam accused the coalition of showing “clear disregard for civilian life” by targeting a crowded public place.
The ICRC stressed that “under international humanitarian law, civilians must be protected during conflict”, while the secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland called it a “grotesque, shameful” attack that showed “blatant disregard for rules of war”.
Save the Children described the incident as “horrific”, and called for a full, immediate and independent investigation into recent attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.
It was not immediately clear whether the bus was the target of the air strike, but coalition spokesman Col Turki al-Malki said the attack was “a legitimate military action, conducted in conformity with international humanitarian law”.
He said it had hit “militants responsible for planning and targeting civilians” in the southern Saudi city of Jizan on Wednesday night, where one Yemeni resident was killed and 11 others were injured by fragments from an intercepted ballistic missile that was launched by the Houthis from neighbouring Amran province.
He accused the rebels of using children as “tools and covers for their terrorist acts”.
Later, air strikes were reported in the rebel-held Yemeni capital, Sanaa.
A week ago, at least 55 civilians were killed and 170 others wounded in a series of attacks on the rebel-held Red Sea port city of Hudaydah. The coalition denied that it had carried out air strikes in the area, and blamed the deaths on rebel mortar fire.
Why is there a war in Yemen?
Yemen has been devastated by a conflict that escalated in early 2015, when the Houthis seized control of much of the west of the country and forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee abroad.
The conflict in Yemen has been raging for years – but what is it all about?
Alarmed by the rise of a group they saw as an Iranian proxy, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and seven other Arab states intervened in an attempt to restore the government.
Almost 10,000 people – two-thirds of them civilians – have been killed and 55,000 others injured in the fighting, according to the United Nations.
The fighting and a partial blockade by the coalition has also left 22 million people in need of humanitarian aid, created the world’s largest food security emergency, and led to a cholera outbreak that is thought to have affected a million people.
In the meantime, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet on Thursday after Hamas fired close to 200 rockets into Israeli territory — and as the country’s military reinforced units along the border ahead of a feared escalation.
In a brief statement, the cabinet said it had ordered the army “to continue taking strong action against the terrorist elements.” Before the meeting, Netanyahu and his defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, met with top military officials to discuss their options.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, told The Associated Press that Israel had “ground troops that are ready to deploy. We are reinforcing the southern command and Gaza division.” He wouldn’t comment on Israeli media reports of troops preparing for a possible ground operation.
Also Thursday, the Israeli military flattened a well-known cultural center in a crowded Gaza City neighborhood, claiming it was a Hamas military base, as militants fired rockets toward Israel throughout the evening.
At least 180 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza since Wednesday. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted at least 30 of those rockets while others landed in open spaces.
The Israeli military has responded with 140 airstrikes, which Gaza authorities claimed killed at least three people — including a pregnant woman and her 1-year-old daughter. At least 28 people have been injured across southern Israel.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007. Despite the anger, the enemies have signaled, through their contacts with Egypt, that they want to avoid another war and the Cairo government is continuing efforts to broker a long-term cease-fire.
Hamas is demanding the lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade that has devastated Gaza’s economy, while Israel has called for an end to rocket fire, as well as recent border protests and launches of incendiary balloons, and the return of the remains of two dead soldiers and two Israelis believed to be alive and held by Hamas.
Thursday’s fighting, however, brought back memories of the most recent war, in 2014. Air raid sirens wailed in southern Israel overnight and throughout the day, sending families scrambling into bomb shelters, canceling outdoor summer cultural events and forcing summer camps indoors. The Israeli air force, meanwhile, pounded targets across Gaza.
A Palestinian rocket struck the southern city of Beersheba late in the afternoon, landing in an open area. It was the first time a rocket had hit the city since the 2014 war.
In southern Israel, two Thai laborers were among the seven wounded by rocket or mortar fire, and rockets damaged buildings in the cities of Sderot and Ashkelon.
In Sderot, Fox News observed houses and cars pockmarked with shrapnel where some rockets had landed Wednesday night. Amateur video showed parents and children fleeing a playground as rockets landed nearby.
At the United Nations, Israel’s ambassador, Danny Danon, urged the secretary-general and U.N. Security Council to condemn Hamas militants for what he called “the unprovoked terrorist attack” on southern Israel.
Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. Mideast envoy, said he was “deeply alarmed” and appealed for calm. He warned the situation “can rapidly deteriorate with devastating consequences for all people.”
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said U.S. officials were concerned by the situation in Gaza.
“Overall, we condemn the launching of missile attacks into Israel, and call for an end to the destructive violence. We’ve seen reports that 180 or so rocket attacks have taken place, shot from Gaza into Israel, and we fully support Israel’s right to defend itself, and to take actions to prevent provocations of that nature,” Nauert said.
Tension along the Israel-Gaza border has escalated since late March, when Hamas launched what would become regular mass protests along Israel’s perimeter fence with Gaza. The protests have been aimed in part at trying to break the blockade.
Israel and Hamas have engaged in several bouts of fighting this month. The latest round erupted Tuesday, when the Israeli military struck a Hamas military post in Gaza after it said militants fired on Israeli troops on the border. Hamas said two of its fighters were killed after taking part in a gunfire parade inside a militant camp.
The incident unfolded while a group of senior Hamas leaders from abroad were visiting Gaza to discuss the ceases-fire efforts with local leaders.
A top Hamas official told The Associated Press that the group waited for the delegation to leave Gaza before responding with rocket fire late Wednesday.
BBC with additional report from Fox