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Yemeni children were excited for class trip before Saudi airstrike killed all, father recalls

Weeks after the August 9 bombing of a school bus in the Yemeni province of Saada, the boys’ father is still in shock after having to bury his three young children

world Updated: Sep 06, 2018 14:19 IST
Saudi Arabia,Saudi led coalition,Saudi air strike
A Yemeni child sits by the graves of schoolboys who were killed while on a bus that was hit by a Saudi-led coalition air strike on the Dahyan market in August, at a cemetery in the Huthi rebels' stronghold province of Saada on September 4, 2018. (AFP Photo)

Little Ali begged his father to let him and his brothers go on a class trip in northern Yemen this summer. None of them would come home alive.

Weeks after the August 9 bombing of a school bus in the Yemeni province of Saada, the boys’ father is still in shock after having to bury his three young children.

“They waved to me from the bus, and I said ‘go with God’,” said Zaid Tayyeb at his home in Dahyan in Saada province, a stronghold of the Iran-backed Huthis bordering Saudi Arabia.

Tayyeb had refused to send them on the Muslim youth camp trip earlier in the summer, fearing for their safety in Yemen’s deadly conflict between the Huthi rebels and a government backed by Saudi Arabia and its allies.

But following his children’s pleas, he relented and allowed them to board the bus after another group of students returned safely after taking the same route.

“When I woke up that morning, they were all dressed in their new clothes. So I asked them what was going on, acting like I had no idea where they were going,” Tayyeb told AFP.

“They laughed and reminded me that the faithful never lie. That I had promised to let them go on the (Koranic studies) class trip after they got top marks.

“They hugged me tight, got on the bus and waved to me as it pulled away. I turned and walked maybe 100 or 150 metres when the bus was hit.”

Tayyeb turned and ran back towards the bus.

“There was smoke and debris everywhere. I grabbed the first body I could reach. It was face down on the ground,” he said.

“It was my son. Ahmed,” who was 10 years old.

On the wall of the family’s living room hang pictures of each child: Ahmed, his little brother Ali, 9, and 13-year-old Youssef.

Each photograph is accompanied by the date of their death -- “Martyred on 9/8/2018 in the massacre of children in Dahyan”.

Tayyeb’s only surviving son, five-year-old Mohammed, stands under his big brothers’ pictures, wearing rebel military garb tailored to his tiny frame.

He was too young to take the class trip.

Collateral damage

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, 40 children were killed and 56 wounded in the air strike which was carried out by the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Huthis.

Coalition commanders have admitted a small number of mistakes and said the strike had “caused collateral damage”, but there has been no public disciplinary action or changes to the rules of engagement.

The rebels accuse the coalition of knowingly targeting children. The coalition says there was a legitimate target -- but a mistake in timing.

The incident sparked a wave of international anger and the United Nations Security Council has called for a “credible and transparent” investigation.

Following the Dahyan attack, UN officials accused the coalition of being behind twin air strikes on August 23 which killed at least 26 children south of the rebel-held port city of Hodeida.

The coalition said on Thursday that its investigation into those strikes had found “there might have been collateral damage and civilian casualties.”

Both parties in the Yemen conflict stand accused of failing to protect civilians. The Saudi-led coalition last year landed on a UN blacklist for the killing and maiming of children.

The Huthis are accused of using human shields and recruiting child soldiers.

The UN children’s agency (UNICEF) has long highlighted the plight of minors in Yemen, where the organisation says 2,200 children have been killed in the conflict.

Since Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in Yemen in March 2015, some 10,000 people have been killed in the war which has triggered a humanitarian crisis.

For Tayyeb, the loss of his three children leaves a wound that will never heal.

“They were intelligent, polite, wise beyond their years. And now they’re in heaven.”

First Published: Sep 06, 2018 14:19 IST