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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Lydia Chantler-Hicks

At least 78 people killed in Ramadan crush in Yemen’s capital Sanaa

At least 78 people were killed in a crush in Yemen’s capital Sanaa as hundreds gathered in a school to receive aid on Wednesday night.

Dozens more were reportedly left injured, including 13 who were in a critical condition.

Hundreds of people had crowded into a school to receive donations of around £7 each from a charity funded by local businessmen, witnesses said. Wealthy people and businessmen often hand out cash and food, especially to the poor, during Ramadan.

A screengrab from an Al-Masirah TV video footage taken on April 19 via AFPTV (AL-MASIRAH TV/AFP via Getty Imag)

Mohamed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthi supreme revolutionary committee, said it was the result of the Yemeni people suffering “the worst global humanitarian crisis” after eight years of fighting.

“We hold the countries of aggression responsible for what happened and for the bitter reality that the Yemeni people live in because of the aggression and blockade,” he said on Twitter.

Eyewitnesses claimed the crowd had been spooked by gunfire and an electrical explosion.

Armed Houthis fired into the air in an attempt at crowd control, apparently striking an electrical wire and causing it to explode, according to two witnesses, Abdel-Rahman Ahmed and Yahia Mohsen. That sparked a panic, and people, including many women and children, began stampeding, they said.

Sandals and other belongings left strewn across the floor in the aftermath of the tragedy (AP)

Video posted on social media showed dozens of bodies, some motionless, and others screaming as people tried to help.

Separate footage of the aftermath released by Houthi officials showed bloodstains, shoes and victims’ clothing scattered on the ground.

Abdel-Khaleq al-Aghri, spokesperson for the Houthi-run Interior Ministry, blamed the crush on the “random distribution” of funds without coordination with local authorities.

The interior ministry said the two merchants responsible for organising the donation event had been detained and an investigation was underway.

As well as the 78 people killed, at least 73 others were injured and taken to the al-Thowra Hospital in Sanaa, according to hospital deputy director Hamdan Bagheri.

The rebels quickly sealed off a school where the event was being held and barred people, including journalists, from approaching.

An image from a video shows the scene of the deadly crush (AP)

Wednesday’s tragedy was Yemen‘s deadliest in years that was not related to the country’s eight-year civil war, and came ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan later this week.

Yemen‘s capital has been under the control of the Iranian-backed Houthis since they descended from their northern stronghold in 2014 and removed the internationally recognised government. That prompted a Saudi-led coalition to intervene in 2015 to try to restore the government.

The conflict has turned, in recent years, into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, killing more than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians and creating one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.

More than 21 million people in Yemen, or two-thirds of the country’s population, need help and protection, according to the UN.

In February, the UN said it had raised only $1.2 billion out of a target of $4.3 billion at a conference aimed at generating funds to ease the humanitarian crisis.

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