A Roar at a Funeral, and Yemen’s War Is Altered

A rally on Sunday in Sana, Yemen, protesting deadly airstrikes. Yemeni officials said a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia was responsible.
A rally on Sunday in Sana, Yemen, protesting deadly airstrikes. Yemeni officials said a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia was responsible.

Large speakers played verses from the Quran as hundreds of mourners filed through the fanciest reception hall in Sana, the capital, to pay their respects to a prominent family after the death of its patriarch.

Then there was a roar, the hall shook, and the guests were knocked to the floor and enveloped in fire and smoke. Some rushed for the exits as parts of the ceiling collapsed, trapping others under the rubble.

“We did not think they would attack a funeral,” said Abdulla al-Shamy, 27, a clothing salesman who was in the hall at the time. “We did not think they would be so vile.”

The attack last Saturday, which Yemeni officials and witnesses said was a series of airstrikes by the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, killed more than 100 people and unleashed political forces that could drastically change the course of Yemen’s war.

The United States will conduct “an immediate review” of its support for the Saudi-led coalition, with possible adjustments “to better align with U.S. principles, values and interests,” according to a statement from Ned Price, the National Security Council spokesman.

“U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check,” Mr. Price’s statement said. “Even as we assist Saudi Arabia regarding the defense of their territorial integrity, we have and will continue to express our serious concerns about the conflict in Yemen and how it has been waged.”

Initially, Saudi Arabia denied that jets from its coalition had been involved in the attack. But in a statement on Sunday, the Saudis announced an investigation into “reports about the regrettable and painful bombing.”

The conflict in Yemen broke out in 2014 when rebels known as the Houthis seized the capital and sent the government into exile. The Houthis are allied with army units loyal to a former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh; they have been fighting for control of the country against groups at least nominally loyal to the current president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is backed by Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies.

In March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition began a campaign of airstrikes aimed at turning the tide against the Houthi-Saleh alliance. The campaign has largely failed, while reports of civilian deaths have grown common, and much of the country is on the brink of famine.

The airstrikes on Saturday followed a period of escalation since August, when the last round of internationally backed peace talks broke down. Both sides have sought to bolster their positions since then.

Tamim al-Shami, a spokesman for the Yemeni Health Ministry, said that hospitals had received at least 114 bodies from the airstrikes and that more than 600 people had been wounded.

In a statement on Saturday, the United Nations said more than 140 had been killed in all.

People inspect the aftermath of a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen, on Oct. 8, 2016
People inspect the aftermath of a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen, on Oct. 8, 2016

The dead included many members of prominent tribes from northern Yemen. Ms. Alley, the analyst with the International Crisis Group, said those tribes might now ally with the rebels in new attacks on Saudi Arabia. Also killed were Abdulqader Hilal, the mayor of Sana, and a number of other political and military leaders who not only supported peace talks with the exiled government, but also had the credibility to put an accord into effect.

“They killed and injured several important moderate leaders who were working with them, who wanted a deal,” April Longley Alley, an analyst with the International Crisis Group who follows events in Yemen, said of the Saudi-led coalition. “Now the desire for revenge is high, and militants will be empowered, which puts us in a situation where a compromise might not be possible.”

The attack occurred at a time of growing tension between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Their decades-old alliance has been strained by the United States’ push for a nuclear agreement with Iran, a bitter Saudi enemy, as well as by American policy in Syria.

The United States has sold billions of dollars’ worth of military hardware and munitions to Saudi Arabia over the years, and a new arms deal worth $1.15 billion was approved this year, despite efforts by dozens of members of Congress to block it.

The United States does not provide the Saudi-led coalition with targeting information for strikes within Yemen, but it does help Saudi Arabia guard its borders and provides training and refueling for the Saudi Air Force. It is this support that could be curtailed after a policy review.

In Iran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps strongly condemned the airstrikes, calling them a “U.S-Saudi-Zionist joint plot,” the semiofficial Tasnim News Agency reported.

In a statement, the Revolutionary Guards predicted that the Houthis would seek revenge and said that Saudi leaders would suffer the same fate as that of “dictators” like the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and the former Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.


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