The Saudi-led coalition on Saturday expressed regret for “mistakes” in carrying out a recent airstrike against Houthi rebel commanders that led to numerous civilian deaths and casualties in north Yemen.
The coalition said it was ready to start legal proceedings against those responsible for the mistakes and would look to see what lessons could be learned in order to improve the rules of engagement in order to prevent further civilian deaths.
The statement came after Mansour Ahmed Al Mansour, a legal adviser to the Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT), called for those responsible to be held accountable after it ruled that the August 9 strike in north Yemen’s Saada province, while intended against a legitimate target, had led to civilian casualties that included children.
“The Joint Forces Command of the Coalition expresses regret over the mistakes, extends its sympathies, condolences and solidarity to the families of the victims and announces its acceptance of the results and findings of (JIAT)”, a coalition statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency said.
It added that legal proceedings against those responsible for the mistakes would be launched in accordance with the rules and regulations related to the case as soon as the JIAT have passed on the full findings of their report.
“[The Coalition will] continue to revise and enhance its rules of engagement, according to operational lessons learned, in a manner that guarantees non-recurrence of such incidents”, the statement said.
Mr Al Mansour said the strikes had been based on intelligence indicating that the bus was carrying Houthi leaders, a legitimate military target, but that delays in executing the strike and receiving a no-strike order should be investigated.
He told a press conference in Riyadh that "an order had been given not to target the bus, which was among civilians, but the order arrived late".
The coalition will now work with the JIAT and the internationally recognised Yemeni government to obtain the identities of the victims in order to compensate families.
“The Joint Forces Command of the Coalition reaffirms its continued commitment to the International Humanitarian Law… as well as the application of the rules of engagement in accordance with highest international standards and practices, which will guarantee the respect of the International Humanitarian Law, and preservation of civilian lives and possessions”, the statement concluded.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said its team in Saada received the bodies of 29 children and treated 48 wounded, 30 of them children after the strike.
The coalition referred the incident to the JIAT on August 11, saying at the time, it is "firmly committed to investigating all claims regarding mistakes or violations of international law, to sanction those who caused these incidents and to provide assistance to the victims".
The force refers numerous incidents to the JIAT, particularly cases in which civilians are believed to be injured or killed or when international actors accuse wrongdoing.
Mr Al Mansour said in July this year that the investigation panel was still reviewing some 70 allegations made about incidents related to the coalition and would continue to report its findings.
The coalition abides by the rulings of the independent body that makes its assessments after combing dozens of sources including satellite imagery, coalition flight and battle reports, as well as images and video footage captured by fighter jets carrying out missions in Yemen.