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Yemen: Crush kills at least 85 in Sanaa school during Ramadan aid delivery

Hundreds more reported injured in disaster on the eve of Eid al-Fitr
This image released by the Houthi media office shows the aftermath of a deadly crush in Sanna, 19 April (AP)
This image released by the Houthi media office shows the aftermath of a deadly crush in Sanna, 19 April (AP)

At least 85 people were killed in a crush at a school in Yemen’s Sanaa on Wednesday night as people gathered to receive aid on one of the last nights of Ramadan.

Several more were injured, reported the local Al Masirah TV, which is close to the Houthi authorities in Sanaa. Around 13 were in a critical condition, Sanaa’s director of health told the channel.

A Houthi security official, speaking to AFP anonymously, said at least "85 were killed and more than 322 were injured" in the Bab al-Yemen district of the capital, adding that around 50 were in a serious condition.

"Women and children were among the dead," he said.

The aid was being distributed as a Ramadan initiative led by local merchants, the Houthi interior ministry said. The holy month is a time of huge charitable endeavours by Muslims worldwide.

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Two witnesses in the rescue efforts told Reuters that around 5,000 people had squeezed in and around the school to receive gifts of 5,000 rials ($9).

Footage posted on social media shows crowds of people screaming and bodies packed together with people climbing on top of each other in a bid to reach safety. 

The Houthi movement, offically known as Ansarullah, has controlled Sanaa since 2014. 

The Sanaa Ministry of Interior’s spokesperson Brigadier Abdel-Khaleq al-Aghri called the incident “tragic” blaming the “random distribution” of aid without coordination for the crush. 

The merchants who organised the aid distribution event have been detained according to the ministry, and an investigation is underway, 

Following the crush there has been widespread anger about the incident. The Houthis announced a compensation package that would include some $2,000 in compensation to each family who lost a relative, while the injured would get about $400.

Yemen's mounting tragedies

The latest tragedy to hit Yemen is in addition to the ongoing humanitarian crisis it is facing.

The country is in the middle of what the United Nations calls the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, with some 24 million people - 80 percent of the population - in need of aid and protection.

The ongoing war in Ukraine is exacerbating a food crisis in Yemen because the conflict-splintered country imports most of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine.

More recently there have been tentative hopes of a possible resolution to the eigth-year war in Yemen following a rapprochement brokered by China between Riyadh and Tehran that aims to restore normal diplomatic relations.

Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have backed opposing parties to the conflict with dire results for the country. 

Earlier this week more than 100 prisoners of war were flown from Saudi Arabia to Yemen in what was described as a "unilateral" release by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

People stand outside a school on 20 April at the site of the crush, in Sanaa, Yemen (Reuters)

The move comes after an earlier exchange of 869 captives between the Houthi government and Saudi Arabian officials, raising hopes of further progress towards peace.

The conflict in Yemen, which has been ongoing since the Houthis seized Sanaa in 2014, has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and triggered a major humanitarian crisis.

A Saudi-led military intervention began in 2015, but a UN-brokered ceasefire in April 2022 drastically reduced casualties. The truce expired in October, but fighting has largely remained on hold.

Last week, a Saudi delegation held talks in Sanaa aimed at establishing a more durable ceasefire. Although the discussions ended without a truce, an agreement to meet again was reached.

According to analysts, it appears that Saudi Arabia has come to the realisation that its prolonged military campaign will not bring about the defeat of the rebel forces in Yemen.

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