By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
SAADA (Worthy News) – The United Nations has condemned an airstrike that killed more than 70 people in a detention center in Yemen, a nation where minority Christians reportedly face severe persecution.
The facility in Saada, a stronghold of the rebel Houthi movement in north-western Yemen, was hit Friday, witnesses said.
U.N.Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the “escalation needs to stop.” In response, the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels denied it had carried out the airstrike.
The coalition said the site was not on a list of targets to avoid that had been agreed with the U.N. and was not reported by the Red Cross.
Friday’s airstrike followed a turbulent week in which Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen attacked the United Arab Emirates on Monday.
The apparent drone strike blew up several fuel tankers and killed three people, according to state-run Emirati media and Houthi officials.
The Emirati government said the Houthis were responsible, and the foreign ministry condemned it as a “cowardly act to spread terrorism and chaos in the region.”
Soon after, the Saudi-led coalition carried out air raids Tuesday in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, reportedly killing more than 12 people.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in Yemen’s war in 2015 to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. He fled after Houthi rebels took over the capital and parts of northern Yemen in late 2014.
The UAE largely scaled down its military presence in the country in 2019 but continues to sway through the Yemeni forces it arms and trains, experts say.
While a group of countries didn’t immediately claim Friday’s massive airstrike, the attack added concerns among Christians trapped in the war-torn Islamic nation.
“All of Yemen is suffering from one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the world. But Yemeni Christians are even more vulnerable because emergency relief is distributed largely by local Muslim leaders,” said Christian aid and advocacy group Open Doors. Muslim officials “often deliberately neglect anybody suspected of not being a devout Muslim,” the group added.
“Yemeni culture is very tribal – so if you leave the tribal faith and become a Christian, you are isolated and at risk. The punishment might be banishment or even death. And, in the past year, violence has become even worse,” noted Open Doors.
Conversion from Islam to Christianity is forbidden both in Islam and in Yemeni law, Open Doors explained.
“Christian converts are pressured by both the government and from their communities to recant their faith in Jesus. They might be arrested or interrogated for their faith and face threats from both family and Islamic extremists who threaten apostates with death.”
In a typical scenario, a girl or woman who converts will lose her phone and other means of communication, according to rights investigators. “Next, she might be isolated in the home (under house arrest), physically and mentally abused, raped, or even killed to ‘restore the honor’ of the tribe or family,” Open Doors added.
Amid the violence and pressure on Christians, a local believer, identified as ‘Naser,’ suggested that all they had left was hope in Christ. “We carry hope that helps us with the certainty that tomorrow will be better!” he added in published comments quoted by Open Doors.
Yemen ranks 5th on the Open Doors annual watch list of 50 countries where it says Christians suffer most for their faith in Christ.
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