By Tom Squitieri
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Thursday it is concerned that Saudi Arabian military airstrikes over the weekend deliberately hit an UN-designated neutral zone in Yemen during an onslaught of attacks.
“We are concerned by reports of the airstrike at the UN-declared neutral zone in Salif Port and are working to gain more information,” Pentagon Spokesperson Commander Jessica L. McNulty said in an email. “The international community must have confidence that UN-declared neutral zones will not be attacked or used for improper activities by any party to the conflict in Yemen.”
Pentagon officials were asked about the attack during a Wednesday press briefing but demurred in responding, saying they were not aware of the circumstances.
Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia launched dozens of air raids against Houthi military targets in Yemen’s north. Among the targets hit, according to United Nations officials, were the port of Salif on the Red Sea coast and the Houthi-controlled Salif grains port, north of Hodeidah.
The port of Salif is part of an UN-brokered neutral zone on the Red Sea, according to an agreement signed in 2018 in Stockholm between Yemen’s warring parties, including Saudi Arabia.
One day after the attacks, Saudi Arabia declared a unilateral ceasefire.
On Wednesday Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said he did not know at that moment enough details of the bombing to determine if the Pentagon saw the attack as permissible. The Pentagon later sent reporters follow-ups to questions asked and not answered during the press conference, including a response to the Saudi attack: “We continue to look into this query and will provide more information as it becomes available” regarding the Saudi attack, the Pentagon said Wednesday night.
The United Nations said airstrikes at the Salif grains port took out a warehouse and the living quarters of a food production company. “Local authorities and company management stated that six injured workers were transferred to local medical facilities for treatment,” the U.N. mission in Hodeidah, UNMHA, said in a statement on Monday.
The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 to try to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi that was ousted by the Houthis in 2014.
The war, which has been a military stalemate for years, has left more than 100,000 people dead and some 80% of the country’s population — roughly 24 million people — near-famine and in need of humanitarian assistance.
The Pentagon has supported the Saudi effort for years but has decreased assistance under pressure from Congress.