UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia complained on Wednesday that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had blamed Arab coalition air strikes for hitting a U.N.-supported hospital in Yemen before the incident had been properly investigated.
Saudi Arabia’s U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said the coalition did not carry out Monday’s attack on the hospital.
A Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March to try to restore the government after it was toppled by Iran-allied Houthi forces, but a mounting civilian death toll and dire humanitarian situation has alarmed human rights groups.
In a statement on Tuesday, Ban “condemned the air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition” that hit the hospital in north Yemen’s Saada province, a region controlled by Houthi forces. No-one was killed in the attack.
The hospital is run by aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) with help from U.N. children’s agency UNICEF and the World Health Organization.
“We regret the statement that was attributed to the Secretary-General,” Mouallimi told a news conference, adding that he would contact Ban. “How was the hospital hit or damaged? We do not know and we will have a full and transparent investigation carried out by the Yemeni authorities.”
He said Saudia Arabia was aware of many other incidents in Yemen where damage had been caused to targets by Houthi artillery fire and blamed on the coalition.
“It would not be surprising if this was a similar situation. However, it would also be premature to reach any such conclusions,” Mouallimi said. “The wise thing to do is the await the results of the investigation.”
He said MSF had given the coalition the correct coordinates of the hospital and it was on a list of forbidden targets. He said the nearest air operations at the time of the attack were at least 40 km (24 miles) north of the hospital.
Coalition warplanes bombed the Houthis across Yemen on Wednesday and dropped weapons to Islamist militias battling the group.
The United Nations has designated Yemen as one of its highest-level humanitarian crises, alongside emergencies in South Sudan, Syria and Iraq. It says more than 21 million people in Yemen need help, or about 80 percent of the population.
Earlier this month, 22 people were killed when a U.S. air strike hit a MSF hospital in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama apologized, but MSF wants an independent humanitarian commission to investigate what it calls a war crime.
Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool