Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have admitted that the bombing of a school bus in Yemen last month – which killed 51 people, including 40 children – was “unjustified”.
A probe by the coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels concluded on Saturday that “mistakes” had been made in the August 9 air raid in Saada province.
Mansour Ahmed al-Mansour, a legal adviser to the military alliance’s Joint Incident Assessment Team, said that those behind it should be held accountable.
On the day of the bus attack, coalition spokesperson Colonel Turki al-Malki had defended the air raid, saying his forces hit a “legitimate military target”, which included “operators and planners”.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from neighbouring Djibouti, said the coalition’s admission marked a “remarkable about-turn”.
“The Saudis and the UAE had earlier said it was a justified and legitimate military operation. They have now talked to the people in the area and they have concluded that it was an unjustified attack, which is a remarkable about-turn from the position that they took just weeks ago,” he said.
The probe came after the air attack sparked widespread international condemnation and calls for an independent investigation from the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres.
Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF’s regional director in the Middle East and North Africa, tweeted at the time: “NO EXCUSES ANYMORE!!”
“Does the world really need more innocent children’s lives to stop the cruel war on children in Yemen?” he said.
Following the attack, individual members of the Congress in the United States also called on their country’s army to clarify its role in the war and investigate whether support for the air raids could render US military personnel “liable under the war crimes act”.
The US has been the biggest supplier of military equipment to Riyadh, with more than $90bn of sales recorded between 2010 and 2015.
Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, has been bombing Yemen since March 2015 after the Houthis swept across the country, including the capital, Sanaa. The coalition’s stated aim is to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power.
Out of the 16,000-plus raids they have launched since the start of the conflict, only a handful have been investigated, despite nearly a third of all bombs hitting civilian targets.
Last year, the UN blacklisted the Saudi-UAE alliance for causing the majority of reported child deaths and injuries in Yemen.