Kerry: More ‘work to do’ in avoiding civilian casualties in Yemen

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Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday called for a unity government in Yemen to end the 17-month civil war there, while also acknowledging that there’s “work to do” in the Saudi Arabia-led coalition to avoid civilian casualties.

“What is important is the Saudis are not denying that there’s work to do,” Kerry said during a press conference in the Saudi city of Jeddah.

{mosads}“We need to work to make sure that operations are conducted and carried out in a way that is as precise as possible with as minimal collateral impact as possible under the circumstances of war.”

Kerry’s comments come the same day the U.N. human rights chief called for an international investigation into civilian casualties in Yemen after his office reported that a majority are believed to be caused by coalition airstrikes.

Lawmakers have been increasingly critical of U.S. support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen after the Saudis recently bombed a school and a hospital, killing dozens.

The Saudi-led coalition has been fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels since 2015, when the rebels overran the capital of Sanaa and caused the president to flee.

The U.S. provides logistical support, as well as some intelligence. It has also sold Saudi Arabia billions of dollars of arms, with another $1.15 billion sale pending.

After meeting with Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, their counterparts from the Gulf Cooperation Council and the United Kingdom, and U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ahmed, Kerry said all participants agreed on a renewed approach to peace talks, which were suspended earlier this month.

“The bloodshed, I think most would agree, has simply gone on for too long,” he said. “It has to stop.”

Under the new plan, the parties in the conflict would form a unity government. In return, the rebels would need to withdraw from Sanaa and transfer ballistic missiles and other heavy weapons to a third party.

“This is a proposal that offers the Houthis an opportunity to have confidence in the governing structure that will be put in place for Yemen,” Kerry said. “It offers them participation in that process.”

When asked about civilian casualties in the conflict, Kerry said the U.S. has been clear about its concerns, both in the past and during Thursday’s meetings.

It’s “clear,” he said, that “some progress” has been made to address those concerns, but more work needs to be done.

“We take our commitments to Saudi security seriously,” he said. “We also take our global commitments under humanitarian law seriously, and we’re working with Saudi Arabia as well as possible to address those concerns.”

Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said his country is “extremely careful” in trying to minimize civilian casualties.

He also slammed what he sees as a lack of outrage over the Houthi’s behavior.

“I don’t see people being outraged at the Houthis lobbing ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia and killing our people,” he said. “And I don’t see outrage at the indiscriminate artillery shelling by the Houthis against Yemeni villages and towns.”

The U.N. estimates that 3,799 civilians have been killed and 6,711 injured as result of the war in Yemen.

In report released Thursday that catalogued allegations of human rights violations from July 2015 through June 2016, the U.N. Human Rights Office said that “cases monitored by the office indicate air strikes were the single largest cause of casualties, resulting in approximately one third of the deaths and injuries recorded.”

The office also “documented recurrent attacks striking civilians and civilian objects, including in residential areas” by rebels, the report said.

In releasing the report, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for an independent, international body to be created to investigate the allegations.

“Civilians in Yemen have suffered unbearably over the years from the effects of a number of simultaneous and overlapping armed conflicts,” he said.

“And they continue to suffer, absent any form of accountability and justice, while those responsible for the violations and abuses against them enjoy impunity. Such a manifestly, protractedly unjust situation must no longer be tolerated by the international community.”

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