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Airstrikes Have Pounded Yemen And This Time Children Paid The Price


The war in Yemen took a horrible turn this week. An airstrike killed dozens of children who were traveling by bus on a summer trip. It's the latest tragedy in a conflict that's already causing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. It began as a civil war in 2014, but the violence against civilians has gotten worse as foreign powers intervened.

Saudi Arabia leads a coalition that's backed by the U.S. to fight the Houthis. It's a local group that they see as a proxy for Iran. The Saudi-led coalition has pounded Yemen with airstrikes for months and months, years. Children on a bus on their way to a field trip paid the price this week.

NPR's Ruth Sherlock has been reporting on the war for a long time and joins us from Beirut. Ruth, what more are we learning about the attack?

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Well, what we are learning is that the death toll keeps rising. So far, it seems that 43 people have died in the airstrike, and scores more are wounded, some of them severely. The International Committee for the Red Cross says that 29 of the dead are children, all of them under the age of 15.

As you said, you know, the airstrike hit this public school bus that was carrying them on a summer trip. Witnesses say they had stopped at a market so the driver could get some water when the airstrike struck. There's all these terrible images of children covered in blood, lying on stretchers. And the hospitals are overwhelmed.

MARTIN: Are the Saudis saying anything about this? I mean, did they intentionally target these children?

SHERLOCK: Well, what they're saying is that they're standing by the fact that - they say this was a legitimate military action. And they say they were targeting missile launchers that Houthi rebels have used to fire at a Saudi city this week. We reached Soumaya Hassan (ph), who's an activist who documents violations on women and children in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. She, though - she says, though, that this has to be investigated.

SOUMAYA HASSAN: (Speaking Arabic).

SHERLOCK: She's saying, "this crime is extremely painful. It's painful to us because when children are targeted on a bus, it means there are humanitarian violations taking place." There's also growing international outrage. The U.N. has called for an independent investigation. The U.S., who supports the Saudi coalition, has stopped short of that but that the Saudis should investigate.

MARTIN: I mean, the U.N. has been trying to broker a peace to end this war for a long time, and yet, it keeps going. We keep seeing these kinds of attacks. Civilians are the ones who are starving and dying and now these children. What keeps propelling this war forward?

SHERLOCK: Well, it is increasingly a proxy war. So Saudi wants to confront its regional rival, Iran. And it says that the Houthis receive help from Iran. And it's - so the Saudis are helping the government take - try to take back the country from the Houthis, who control a lot of it. And, you know, there's a U.S. angle here too.

The U.S. supports the Saudi coalition. They provide intelligence. They provide targeting information to the Saudi coalition. And, of course, they sell a lot of weapons to Saudi Arabia. And this is becoming increasingly controversial. There are growing moves in Congress, with some congressmen saying, you know, we have to stop this support. But so far, there's not been any major breakthrough, either in peace negotiations on the ground or in the political sphere in the U.S.

MARTIN: NPR's Ruth Sherlock reporting from Beirut. Thanks, Ruth.

SHERLOCK: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.