Doctors Without Borders has announced it will evacuate staff from hospitals in Northern Yemen, blaming the decision on "unreliable" assurances from the Saudi Arabian-led coalition that airstrikes would not continue against medical facilities.
There have been at least four attacks on hospital facilities supported by Doctors Without Borders — also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) — in the past 12 months.
The most recent, on Aug. 15, killed at least 11 people and injured 24. The airstrike landed on a hospital in the Abs district of Hajjah governorate.
It the latest in a series of atrocities endured by the Yemenis as result of a bitter civil and proxy war that broke out last year.
The Houthi faction, which currently controls the capital, Sanaa, and supports former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, opposes forces loyal to new President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is based in Aden with the internationally recognized government. Hadi is supported by various international partners, led by Saudi Arabia.
Since the conflict started last year, the United Nations estimates at least 8,000 civilians have been injured in the conflict, and more than 6,500 people – half of them civilians – killed.
Additionally, many of the parties involved have been accused of flagrantly ignoring international humanitarian law.
The first attack in Yemen on an MSF-supported facility was in October last year. Although no one died, one member of staff was injured during the hourlong bombardment, which reduced the small hospital in the Haydan District, Saada province, to rubble.
MSF blamed the Saudi-led coalition for the strike, and said the leveling of the hospital left 200,000 people in the area without access to life-saving medical care. The hospital was treating roughly 200 people every month.
In the second attack in December 2015, located in southern Yemen, three airstrikes destroyed a facility Taiz city's Al Houban district. Nine people were wounded in the Saudi-led airstrike, two of them critically. Again, MSF laid the blame for the strike at the feet of the coalition.
The third attack came on Jan. 10 this year when the Shiara hospital in Razeh, northern Yemen, was bombed. The projectile killed six people and injured seven more. The attack was again blamed on the Saudi coalition.
In addition to last week's fourth attack, MSF said there had been "countless" attacks on other health facilities in the country.
In a statement from the organization's headquarters in New York on Friday, officials said they had met twice with representatives of the Saudi-led coalition in Riyadh over the past eight months who assured them the bombings would stop.
"Aerial bombings have however continued, 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.
The withdrawal will affect six hospitals in the north of the country, and will include pediatricians, obstetricians, surgeons, and emergency room specialists. The hospitals will remain open with a skeleton staff of local health employees. Teresa Sancristóval, emergency program coordinator, told the New York Times the hospitals would continue to be supported by her organisation.
The Saudi Arabian government, in a statement from Riyadh released through the Saudi state news agency SPA, said it deeply regretted MSF's decision to withdraw from part of the country. A spokesperson said there were “urgent discussions” ongoing to resolve the situation.
“We greatly value the work MSF does for the people of Yemen under difficult circumstances,” the coalition said.