WASHINGTON: A weekend attack on a funeral gathering in Yemen widely blamed on Saudi-led warplanes was “egregious,” a senior U.S. official said on Friday in one of Washington’s strongest condemnations of the incident.
The White House said it was reviewing its support for the 18-month-old Arab campaign against Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthis after the attack on Saturday, which killed 140 people according to one U.N. estimate and 82 according to the Houthis.
The United States has gradually reduced its support for the Saudi-led campaign, in part because of its unhappiness with the hundreds of civilian deaths that have resulted from what rights groups have described as indiscriminate attacks.
A second U.S. official who briefed reporters in a telephone conference call made clear that all U.S. assistance to the Saudi-led coalition was under review. He said this included intelligence, logistics and refueling but did not give details.
Separately, both officials said they were confident Houthi rebels had targeted a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer on Sunday and Wednesday in failed missile attacks. The United States retaliated on Thursday by launching cruise missiles at three coastal radar sites in areas of Yemen controlled by the Houthis.
Sources in the coalition initially denied any role in Saturday’s attack that killed mourners at a community hall in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, but Saudi Arabia later promised an investigation of the “regrettable and painful” incident.
“The strike on the funeral was really, really hard to swallow. We thought that was particularly egregious,” said one of the U.S. officials briefing reporters about U.S. policy toward Yemen.
“We just thought there was absolutely no justification for the strike,” the second official said. “It pales next to anything else that had been done … As a result there was a consensus that we needed to look at the full scope of the assistance that we provide to the coalition that impacts the war, and so that’s what we have under way.”
The first official also stressed that some of those killed in the attack were more open to reconciliation within Yemen.
The funeral wake was for the father of the interior minister of northern Yemen’s Houthi-run administration, Jalal al-Roweishan, who died of natural causes on Friday. Yemenis say the Roweishan family is widely respected and has good ties with many groups and tribes across Yemen’s political spectrum.
“A number of important figures who are part of the reconciliation process were killed That is unfortunate,” said the first U.S. official. “It’s hard to replace those people. There are hard liners on all sides of this conflict and so those who are willing to forge more of a middle ground and work for compromise are going to be sorely missed,” he added.