The United Nations condemned on Monday an attack carried out by Yemen’s Houthi rebels that hit a women’s prison in the country’s southwestern province of Taez.
The shelling killed five females and wounded two dozen prisoners, including four children staying with their jailed mothers at the central prison in the government-held province.
Taez, Yemen’s third-biggest city, has been on the front line of the conflict between the internationally recognised government and Iran-backed rebels, for nearly 5 years.
“I condemn the heinous attack on Taez’s central prison which killed and injured several women and children,” the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said.
“Civilians and civilian objects including prisons must be protected as per international humanitarian law,” Mr Griffiths said.
Officials say the shelling came from the part of the divided city controlled by the Houthis.
Yemen’s government denounced the shelling and called on the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross for support.
“We call on the international community to take a clear stance on these brutal crimes against humanity, collective punishment and unjust siege that Houthis militia impose against civilians in Taez,” Yemen’s Minister of Information, Moamar Eryani said on Twitter.
The ICRC said that Prisons and their inmates “are protected under International Humanitarian Law and cannot be a target.”
The international humanitarian body said it is in contact with the concerned authorities to further assess the situation.
With the outbreak of the global coronavirus pandemic, the United Nations and Western powers hope the threat will push Yemen’s warring sides into fresh talks aimed at ending the war that has left millions vulnerable to disease and starvation.
Mr Griffiths led peace talks in Stockholm in December 2018 that set up a committee to establish humanitarian corridors to the city, but little progress has been made so far.
Lack of trust between the two sides has hindered Mr Griffiths' peace efforts.
Despite being the most devastated city in the conflict, Taez remains largely ignored by the UN and international community, Nadwa Dawsari, a Yemen conflict analyst said.
"The Houthis continue to commit atrocities against Taez citizens with great comfort.
“They know they won't be held accountable because no one is calling them out on their crimes in the city – not the UN, not ambassadors, not the international community. No one."