The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has admitted that an airstrike that struck a school bus last month, killing dozens of civilians, was unjustified.
The rare admission of fault comes amid mounting pressure from the coalition’s US backers to limit civilian deaths in airstrikes.
The coalition’s Joint Incident Assessment Team blamed "delays" for the incident, which led to the bus being targeted in a crowded market in Saada province, resulting in 51 civilian deaths, including 40 children.
The coalition claimed it had intelligence saying Houthi leaders were on the bus and using the children as human shields, making the bus a legitimate military target.
But it also said delays in executing the strike and receiving a no-strike order should be investigated.
Mansour Ahmed al-Mansour, a legal adviser to Joint International Assessment Team, told reporters in Riyadh that “coalition forces should initiate legal action to try and penalise those responsible for the mistakes, which caused collateral damage in the area.”
The coalition pledged to hold accountable anyone who contributed to the error.
The conflict in Yemen has long been widely referred to as a forgotten war, but the 9 August airstrike on the school bus brought a surge of public attention and strong words from the UK and Saudi Arabia’s American backers.
A UK government spokesperson said Sunday: “The Government expresses serious concern at the tragic loss of life in Yemen over the last month. In the first two weeks of August alone, over 400 Yemenis lost their lives, including young children, and many more continue to face egregious violations of their basic human rights."
Last week, the Pentagon warned Saudi Arabia that it was prepared to reduce military and intelligence support for its campaign against Houthi rebels if the Saudis did not demonstrate that they were trying to limit civilian deaths.
The following day, US Defense Secretary James Mattis urged Saudi Arabia to "do everything humanly possible to avoid any innocent loss of life,” warning its coalition partner that American support in Yemen was "not unconditional".
According to munitions experts, the bomb that was dropped on the school bus was American-made and supplied to the coalition by its US partner.
The 500-pound (227 kilogram) laser-guided MK 82 bomb is similar to the one dropped on a Sana’a funeral hall in October 2016, an incident that resulted in the deaths of 155 people and an admission of guilt from the Saudi-led coalition, which blamed the incident on “incorrect information”.
Human Rights Watch has called the bombing of the school bus an apparent war crime, and urged countries to "immediately halt weapons sales" to Saudi Arabia.