Doctors Without Borders announced on Thursday that it would evacuate its staff from six hospitals in northern Yemen because it could not get assurances that its hospitals would not be bombed again.
The group blamed the Saudi-led military coalition for the decision, calling its bombing “indiscriminate” and its assurances of protection for health workers “unreliable,” citing the aerial bombardment of Abs Hospital in Hajjah Province on Monday, which killed 19 people and wounded 24.
It was the fourth health facility supported by Doctors Without Borders to be hit by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in the 17-month war against Houthi militias. The aid group, widely known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières, or M.S.F., said in a news release Thursday issued from its New York headquarters that it had met twice with high-ranking coalition officials in the past eight months and been assured that attacks on hospitals would end.
“Aerial bombings have however continued, despite the fact that M.S.F. has systematically shared the GPS coordinates of hospitals in which the organization works with the parties involved in the conflict,” the news release said.
“Coalition officials repeatedly state that they honor international humanitarian law,” the statement continued, “yet this attack shows a failure to control the use of force and to avoid attacks on hospitals full of patients. M.S.F. is neither satisfied with nor reassured by the Saudi-led coalition’s statement that this attack was a mistake.”
The group also called on the United States, Britain and France, who support the Saudi-led coalition, to pressure it to protect civilians, and it complained that the results of previous investigations into hospital bombings by the coalition were never shared.
The withdrawal of staff affects six hospitals in Saada and Hajjah Provinces in the north, including Abs Hospital. Among the staff withdrawn were pediatricians, obstetricians, surgeons and emergency room specialists. The hospitals were expected to remain open using Yemeni staff members, and Teresa Sancristóval, Doctors Without Borders’ emergency program coordinator, said the group would continue to support the hospitals with medical supplies and funding.
“M.S.F. condemns the way all actors involved in the conflict, including the Saudi-led coalition, the Houthis and allies, are conducting this war and carrying out indiscriminate attacks without any respect for civilians,” the group said.
The Saudi-led coalition, in a statement issued in Riyadh, said that it regretted the aid group’s decision to withdraw staff and that it was in “urgent discussions” with the group to resolve the situation.
“We greatly value the work M.S.F. does for the people of Yemen under difficult circumstances,” the coalition said.
“The coalition is committed to full respect for international humanitarian law in the conduct of our operations in Yemen,” the statement said, adding that an independent investigation of the Abs bombing would take place.
Saudi officials have accused the Houthi militias, who control Sana, the capital, and northern Yemen, of using hospitals, schools and other civilian facilities to hide their military forces. Doctors Without Borders has denied that was the case in any of its bombed health facilities.
The organization will continue to staff five other hospitals and health centers in Yemen, and it also provides other forms of support besides staffing to 18 hospitals and health centers in eight provinces.
Ibrahim Aram, the director of Abs Hospital, said that it had continued to operate after the bombing Monday, but that the withdrawal by Doctors Without Borders would greatly limit services to patients. “The hospital’s capabilities are collapsing,” he said. “But we will not stop because of this, because we cannot leave our patients.”