'We don't target civilians' in Yemen: Coalition

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Riyadh, Nov 21: The Saudi-led coalition's combat planning chief today defended the air war in Yemen against widespread international concern about high numbers of civilian casualties.

In an exclusive interview with AFP, the Royal Saudi Air Force brigadier general who cannot be identified under the military's security restrictions accused rights groups and other critics of "looking through one eye only".

'We don't target civilians' in Yemen'

"They are receiving all the information from the adversary," he said of Yemen's Huthi rebels supported by forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

"We are sticking to the rules, the international rules and Geneva Convention, first, and law of conflict," said the brigadier. "We don't deviate from those standards," the brigadier told AFP during the first visit by a foreign journalist to the coalition's planning and operations centre at King Salman Air Base in Riyadh.

"We don't target civilians," he said, nearly 10 months into the Arab coalition's war in support of Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

The United Nations reports more than 5,700 people have been killed in Yemen, about half of them civilians, since March when fighting intensified. In late September and early October, the coalition twice denied it had bombed weddings in Yemen after dozens of civilians were killed.

"It is propaganda," the brigadier said. Late last month, the French-based charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) accused the coalition of bombing one of its hospitals in the rebel-held Saada area, an incident condemned by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

"The GPS coordinates were regularly transmitted to the coalition," MSF said, but senior coalition intelligence officers denied this to AFP.

The officer in charge of the intelligence cell said, however, that there are around 4,800 points on a list not to be targeted, and it is updated daily.

These include medical and UN facilities, historical locations and schools.

"First of all we are human, and we don't... target anybody who's not in the conflict", the planning chief said.

He said targeting is verified many times to ensure that civilians will not be killed. The joint forces commander sends targets to the intelligence section which makes sure the objective is in line with the rules of engagement to avoid civilian casualties, the brigadier said.

AFP

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