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Saudi Arabia-led coalition regrets Doctors Without Borders’ planned withdrawal from Yemen

Men inspect the damages at a hospital in Abs, Hajjah, Yemen, on Aug. 16, 2016, a day after an airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition.
Men inspect the damages at a hospital in Abs, Hajjah, Yemen, on Aug. 16, 2016, a day after an airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition.
(Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting rebels in Yemen said Friday it regrets Doctors Without Borders’ plans to withdraw from hospitals in the northern part of the country because of what the aid group described as indiscriminate bombings.  

The coalition values the work done by the aid group under difficult circumstances and wants to resolve the situation, according to a statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency.

“The Coalition is committed to full respect for international humanitarian law in the conduct of our operations in Yemen,” the statement said. 

The aid group, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF, said Thursday it was withdrawing staff from six hospitals in northern Yemen after a coalition airstrike Monday on a hospital in the Houthi rebel-controlled area of Hajjah killed 19 people and wounded at least 24.

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Monday’s airstrike was the fourth and deadliest attack on any clinic supported by Doctors Without Borders during the fighting, though other health facilities have also been attacked, according to a statement by the group. 

“There have been countless attacks on… health facilities and services all over Yemen… despite the fact that MSF has systematically shared the GPS coordinates of hospitals in which we work with the parties involved in the conflict,” the statement said.

“Given the intensity of the current offensive and our loss of confidence in the Saudi-led coalition’s ability to prevent such fatal attacks, MSF considers the hospitals in Saada and Hajjah to be unsafe for both patients and staff.”

Although it would pull its staff, the group said it would continue to provide indirect support such as medicine for northern Yemen.

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The coalition of Arab states, which is backed by the U.S., intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to help battle Shiite Muslim rebels who had forced the president into exile.

Joan Tubau, the aid group’s general director, said in a phone interview Friday that he welcomed the chance for discussions with coalition representatives, but insisted that there needed to be an independent investigation into the airstrikes.

“The outcomes need to be discussed and there needs to be a clear correlation between this investigation and decisions of protocol and rules of engagement and we need to see changes in this,” Tubau said.

The decision to evacuate staff from northern Yemen was difficult, he said. 

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“It means you’re leaving patients that require our help, but also hospitals full of . . . workers that require our support and contribution in order to keep up the services in terms of standard and scope of care,” he said. “It’s a hard decision when we cannot guarantee the safety of our staff.” 

Bulos is a special correspondent.

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