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White House To Review Support For Saudi-Led Coalition After Yemen Funeral Bombing

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've talked a lot about the civil war in Syria, over the last few weeks especially. But there's another conflict raging in Yemen that's also politically very complicated. A deadly air strike on a funeral in the capital yesterday killed more than 140 people. And now the White House says it's going to review its military support for the Saudi Arabia-led air campaign there. NPR's Alison Meuse has more from Beirut. She joins us.

Alison, what more can you tell us about this attack?

ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: Hi. Well, the strikes targeted the largest private hall in Sanaa, which is used for weddings and, in this case, a funeral. On yesterday, hundreds of mourners, including children, were attending a funeral for the father of a high-ranking minister. We should mention Sanaa has been held by the Houthi rebels and their allies for more than a year and a half.

A video posted online shows part of the attack. You see smoke rising from the funeral hall and then another one hitting. Now NPR verified the authenticity of the video with the Yemeni journalist we work with. He spoke to witnesses who said the second attack came as ambulances were arriving to evacuate the wounded. And in the end, the U.N. said over 140 people were killed.

MARTIN: So what do we know, Alison, at this point as to what the U.S. role is in this conflict right now?

MEUSE: Well, the U.S. has been supporting Saudi campaign diplomatically and militarily. The U.S. recently approved an over $1 billion military sale to Saudi Arabia. But this has been called into question by some U.S. lawmakers over the war in Yemen. The U.N. human rights chief has sought an independent international inquiry into human rights abuses committed in Yemen, not just by Saudi Arabia but also by the Houthi rebels. But that met fierce resistance from Saudi Arabia.

And in the end, the U.S. and other Western backers dropped support for such an investigation.

MARTIN: So what's been the reaction in Yemen to this latest attack?

MEUSE: Well, there were mass protests today in Sanaa against the Saudi coalition. NPR spoke to a Yemeni journalist who says everyone knows someone who was killed. This was one of the most deadly attacks, if not the most deadly attack, of the conflict. And there are other reasons for Yemenis to be upset. The exiled government recently decided to move the central bank from the capital to its outpost in the city of Aden, and people haven't been getting salaries.

The Saudi-led coalition continues to blockade Houthi-held ports. The Houthis continue to enforce sieges of their own. The U.N. says half the country is now on the verge of famine. Now, peace talks between the warring sides broke down in August. Now both sides have been targeting civilians, but this attack puts a spotlight on the superior firepower of the coalition, how it's waging the war and, of course, U.S. support.

MARTIN: NPR's Alison Meuse reporting on this from Beirut. Alison, thank you so much.

MEUSE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.