April 20 (Reuters) – At least 78 people were killed in a stampede in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, as hundreds gathered at a school to receive aid, witnesses and Houthi media said on Thursday.
Al-Masirah TV news channel, run by the Iran-aligned Houthi group, reported that several people were injured, including 13 critical cases, citing the health director in Sanaa.
A spokesman for the Houthi-controlled Interior Ministry said in a statement that the stampede occurred during the distribution of charitable donations by merchants in the last days of the holy month of Ramadan.
Two witnesses involved in the rescue effort told Reuters that hundreds of people had crowded into a school to receive the donations, which amounted to 5,000 Yemeni riyals, or about $9 per person.
A video clip posted by Houthi TV on the messaging app Telegram showed a crowd of people huddled together, some screaming, screaming and reaching out to be carried to safety. Security personnel fought to push people back and control the crowd.
Another video clip, after the stampede, showed dozens of discarded shoes, crutches and clothes on the steps of the building and forensic investigators in white protective suits sorting through personal belongings.
The Interior Ministry said the merchants responsible for organizing the donation party had been arrested and an investigation was underway.
Yemen has been locked in a civil war for eight years that has killed tens of thousands, destroyed the economy and driven millions to starvation.
A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 after the Houthis ousted the government from the capital, Sanaa, in 2014. The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Muhammad Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said the stampede came as a result of the Yemeni people’s suffering from “the worst global humanitarian crisis” after eight years of fighting.
“We hold the countries of aggression responsible for what happened and the bitter reality that the Yemeni people live in because of the aggression and blockade,” he said on Twitter.
Riyadh and Tehran agreed in March to restore diplomatic relations that were severed in 2016, and this month’s prisoner exchange between the two sides raised hopes for a solution to the conflict.
The chief negotiator of Yemen’s Houthi group said that recent peace talks with Saudi Arabia had made progress and further discussions would take place to resolve remaining differences.
(Covering) Hatem Maher, Editing by Chris Reese
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