Bombing a residential house in Maqbana districtJanuary 23, 2024
A mortar hit a civilian's residential home in the western Taiz governorate.
- Incident: Bombing a residential house in Maqbana district
- Location: Al-Ghawsha village, Akhdu’ Asfl sub-district, Maqbana district, western Taiz governorate
- Date: 24 August 2023
- Time: 18:00 - 19:39 local time of Yemen
- Victims: 5 civilians killed, including 4 children, and 12 others wounded, including 8 women and 2 children
- Physical Damage: Significant damage to a civilian’s home
- Potential munition: Medium to heavy mortar, possibly a 120mm mortar
- Possible violation: International Humanitarian Law (IHL); civilians and civilian objects must be protected from attacks during armed conflict by nature of their civilian status
- Potentially Responsible: Joint Forces of the western coast
On the evening of 24 August 2023, local news outlets and sources on social media reported the bombing of a civilian’s house in the Al-Ghawsha village, a small sector lying in Akhdu’ Asfal, one of the sub-districts of the Maqbana district west of the Yemeni governorate of Taiz. This particular zone was in-between frontlines and experienced heightened military confrontation in the days preceding the attack. The bomb resulted in 5 casualties, 4 of which were children, and 12 wounded, including 8 women and 2 children, most of whom belonged to a single family. The parties involved exchanged accusations and held differing opinions regarding the responsibility for the bombing; however, investigative findings suggest that the Joint Forces of the western coast may be the perpetrator of the attack.
About the area
The Al-Ghawsha village is situated in the Akhdu’ Asfal sub-district of the Maqbana district, western Taiz governorate. Military confrontation in the Taiz governorate at large is not recent. Various districts within Taiz have been the site of attacks, including those which prey on civilians and civilian homes, from both the Joint Forces of the western coast as well as the Houthi Ansar Allah forces. Within this context, this specific quarter is considered amongst the closest to the lines of engagement and it witnessed increased military escalation particularly during the period surrounding the incident at the center of this report.
Numerous earthen berms and trenches, indicating an active military presence, can be seen in the Al-Ghawsha village, all within close proximity (approximately 200-350 meters) of one another. Another military base was spotted at a distance (about 2 km west) from the rest of the military objects. Given supporting contextual knowledge that the incident occurred in or around frontlines, it can be presumed that one party has been engaged in combat from the cluster of berms and trenches in the village with another party whose defense is grounded in the military base a few kilometers away.
A screenshot from Google Earth Pro visualizing the frontlines. The white, dashed circle highlights the cluster of neighboring earthen berms and trenches (identified in red pins numbered 1 to 5) near the Al-Ghawsha village. The remaining red pin denotes the other military base situated relatively further away from the rest. The blue line measures the estimated 2 km distance between the defense points of the two parties.
The coordinates for the cluster of five military positions are:
- 13.878670, 43.599253
- 13.884622, 43.598663
- 13.884751, 43.601113
- 13.884075, 43.603743
- 13.876772, 43.603749
Coordinates of the military base about 2 km away: 13.887095, 43.582541
A screenshot from Google Earth Pro zooming in on the military base, assumed to belong to the Joint Forces of the western coast, which lies approximately 2 km west of the Al-Ghawsha village and the rest of the earthen berms — corroborating claims that the incident site was located at the frontlines.
The military positions within the cluster of earthen berms are believed to belong to the Houthi Ansar Allah forces for two primary reasons: 1) the spokesperson for the Taiz military axis, Colonel Abdel Baset Al-Bahr, claimed that the area was outside of their operational scope, and 2) while not entirely up to date with the recent military movements, the Live Universal Awareness Map roughly illustrates de-facto areas of control of the time, thereby contextualizing historical perimeters and patterns of control which place the Al-Ghawsha village under Houthi control.
A screenshot from Live Universal Awareness Map roughly visualizing the regional areas of control around the Al-Ghawsha village (indicated by the purple, dashed outline). The two turquoise pins mark the approximate location of the military site (left pin) and the cluster of earthen berms (right pin). The key indicates that the red territories are those under the control of the Houthi Ansar Allah forces and the blue territories are those under the control of the Joint Forces of the western coast supported by the Saudi-led coalition. Screenshot taken in November 2023 by the Yemeni Archive.
Yemeni Archive investigated the shelling based on:
- Collecting, preserving, and analyzing videos, photos, and reports across social media platforms and news outlets. This content related to the incident and its aftermath (e.g. funerary arrangements, physical destruction from the blast, etc), regional context including recent military activity in the area, as well as information on accountability for the attack.
- Determining the date and time of the attack via advanced Twitter searches to trace the first tweet about the incident, supported by the findings of TweetedAt which uses reverse-engineering to indicate the exact timing of the post. The window of time for the incident was narrowed down by interview footage of a witness coupled with clues from the scene of emergency responders and the hour of sunset indicated by World Weather Online on the day of the attack.
- Determining an approximate impact zone by comparing landmarks in available information to satellite imagery, namely contours of a mountain range and evidence of nearby military frontlines.
- Assessing the extent of the damage caused by the shell.
- Researching and deducing a possible type of munition used in the attack based on eye-witness accounts from interviews and effects and debris of the blast.
- Considering the competing narratives about the alleged perpetrator that emerged from various actors including local media, government personnel, non-profit organizations, and civilian statements.
On the evening of 24 August 2023, social media users and the press shared news that several civilians had been hurt as a result of an artillery shell on a civilian home in the Akhdu’ Asfal sector of the Maqbana district. The first wave of reports did not mention the casualty count but later in the night and in the days that followed, it was announced that 5 civilians were killed, amongst them 4 children, and 12 more were injured, amongst them 8 women and 2 children. Most of the victims belonged to the same family. The victims were admitted into Model 48 Hospital. The wounded were treated (TW: graphic content) and those who had passed away (TW: graphic content) were declared dead. This incident occurred at a time when military confrontations between the Houthi Ansar Allah forces and the Joint Forces of the western coast had heightened in the proximate territories. No consensus was reached on who was responsible for the bombing as there were claims made against both sides; however, the location of the house in relation to the lines of engagement and de-facto jurisdictions suggest that the house was amid Houthi military defense positions at the time of the attack and that the Joint Forces of the western coast is the probable perpetrator.
The date and time of the attack
The first alert of the incident on social media appears to be a tweet by the profile of Jamil Al-Maqrami indicating shelling in the Akhdu sector of the Maqbana district. The TweetedAt tool reveals the post was published at 19:39 on 24 August 2023 local time in Yemen.
Screenshot from TweetedAt’s data extraction from Jamil Al-Maqrami’s tweet, the first account of the incident, showing that it was posted at 09:39:48 PDT (19:39:48 local time in Yemen) on 24 August 2023. Image taken in October 2023 by Yemeni Archive.
Later news that followed include a video (TW: graphic content) released by the Ansar Allah Media Center’s telegram channel wherein one of the civilian witnesses mentioned that the shell hit the area before the prayer time at sundown. Using the history category on World Weather Online, sunset was determined to have taken place at 18:21 on the day of the incident in Taiz.
A screenshot from World Weather Online’s historical data displaying that sunset for the day of 24 August 2023 was at 18:21 local Yemen time. Taken in October 2023 by the Yemeni Archive.
Given the witness’ statement coupled with the darkly-lit background of the footage of victims being carried into the ambulance and the hospital on gurneys, the possible timing of the incident was likely shortly before sunset.
A screenshot from the Ansar Allah Media Center video on Telegram of one of the victims being transported into an ambulance. The background and the vibrance of the lights on people’s skin suggests that it is past dusk. Screenshot taken in October 2023 by Yemeni Archive.
A screenshot from a YouTube video uploaded by Yemen TV displaying patients being entered into the hospital. It is evident that outside is past dusk. Screenshot taken in October 2023 by Yemeni Archive.
Local news and social media indicated that the incident had occurred in the Maqbana district and, more specifically, in the Al-Ghawsha village of the Akhdu’ Asfal sub-district — the boundaries of which are shown below:
A screenshot from Google Maps outlining the boundaries of the Akhdu’ Asfal sub-district. Screenshot taken in November 2023 by Yemeni Archive.
Given that the Akhdu’ Asfal sub-district is still fairly expansive, two elements helped to significantly narrow down the potential geographic scope of the incident site: 1) information which situated the impacted civilian’s house amid military frontlines, and 2) a mountain range in the background of this video shared by the Yemen in the Eyes of The World Twitter account.
While “Al-Ghawsha” (and other transliterations of the village name) was not a registered location in common geographic/mapping systems such as Google Maps, Google Earth Pro, or OpenStreetMaps, it was documented in the Live Universal Awareness Map. When used in Google Earth Pro, the coordinates for Al-Ghawsha found in the Live Universal Awareness map showed apparent earthen berms and trenches in the area on satellite imagery.
A collage made of four screenshots taken on Google Earth Pro, dated: 27 January 2023, which show 5 military sites (bottom left screenshot includes two neighboring military points) around the Al-Ghawsha village. Screenshots taken in November 2023 by Yemeni Archive.
This new search area was corroborated by the mountain range in the Yemen in the Eyes of the World video. Using PeakVisor, a 3D navigation application with advanced mountain identification that facilitates high-precision terrain modeling, the Yemeni Archive was able to match the peaks and dips of the terrain evident at the incident site to the shape of the mountain range in this area from Google Earth Pro’s.
Comparison of the mountain range: the top image is a screenshot from PeakVisor wherein another screenshot from the Yemen in the Eyes of the World video was overlaid using the platform for terrain identification and modeling. The contour of the terrain has been penciled in with bold strokes to assist in ascertaining the shape (unique peaks and dips) of the mountain range. The bottom image is a screenshot from Google Earth Pro, dated: 27 January 2023, highlighting a mountain range which parallels the one seen at the incident site (top image). The 3 red pins are the possible locations of the incident site. Screenshot taken in November 2023 by Yemeni Archive. Illustrations created by the Yemeni Archive.
The contours of the mountain also helped to pinpoint potential coordinates of the incident site since there were few civilian homes in the outskirts of the Akhdu’ Asfal sub-district. Below are 3 possible locations of the impacted civilian house in relation to the aforementioned earthen berms and trenches.
List of coordinates for the three possible locations
- 13.8790, 43.6021
- 13.881511, 43.600830
- 13.883778, 43.600302
A screenshot from Google Earth Pro, dated: 27 January 2023, outlining the various military sites in white. The 3 red pins represent the potential incident sites. Screenshot taken in November 2023 by Yemeni Archive.
Videos circulated on YouTube, Telegram, and Twitter alongside text-based announcements made on Twitter, Facebook, and local news websites all note that a civilian’s house was hit in the attack. Most sources identified this house as belonging to Abdo Faisal Muhammad Muqbil but some sources spoke generally of a number of homes in the area that suffered from the attack, indicating that neighboring homes also experienced a degree of destruction.
Footage from the incident site show homes in the area are huts, making them more susceptible to significant or total damage in the case of an attack. Additionally, in the video, (indiscernible) items are seen scattered on the ground. Considering that one eye-witness interview expressed that they were living in a small hut, it is possible that at least one civilian’s home was completely destroyed in the attack.
A screenshot from the Yemen in the Eyes of the World video showing the impact site, namely the huts that house civilians in the area as well as small items dispersed on the ground. Taken in December 2023 by the Yemeni Archive.
Potential munitions used
Due to a lack of visual imagery of the shell’s remnants, identification of the munition cannot be ascertained with the information available at this time.
Nonetheless, civilian testimonies and impact analysis do narrow down the number of possibilities. In one Telegram video (TW: graphic content), a witness claimed that the area was hit by a 120mm mortar. For reference, the heaviest mortars are classified as the 240mm mortars but can be as ‘light’ as the 51-60mm mortars (while mortar classifications are based on their weight and caliber, their maximum range and grams of HE [explosives] generally increase with their size). Given the witness statement coupled with the possibility that a small hut was entirely destroyed as well as the small diameter and shallow depth of the crater at the point of impact, it was likely a medium sized munition.
A screenshot from the Yemen in the Eyes of the World video showing the particular spot where the shell must’ve landed due to the small, round clearing made in the ground surrounded by debris. Taken in December 2023 by the Yemeni Archive.
No consensus has been reached on who was responsible for the attack as various narratives have been presented by pro-Houthi as well as pro-coalition news networks, government and military spokespersons, and social media accounts.
From the host of interviews with victims, witnesses, and medical personnel conducted at the hospital immediately after the attack (TW: graphic content), one civilian stated that the shell which hit their home was fired by the Joint Forces of the western coast after a reporter asked the witness where the munition came from. In their answer, the civilian cast the Joint Forces of the western coast as “the enemy.”
In the days following the attack, the Yemen Press reported on local responses from the Taiz governorate and townspeople alike. With regard to the former, the Yemen Press reiterated the announcements made by the local Taiz authority which noted that this is yet another episode in the series of alleged war crimes committed by the Joint Forces of the western coast. With regard to the latter, the Yemen Press gave an account of a protest that was held the Tuesday following the attack (29 August 2023) organized by residents of the Maqbana District in order to denounce the actions of the Joint Forces of the western coast and their pattern of striking civilians and civilian infrastructure.
In the same vein, the Yemen News Agency (Saba) shared multiple statements by different groups and organizations which condemned the attack and all other crimes of the Joint Forces of the western coast, ergo assigning blame, including press releases from the Yemen Center for Human Rights and the National Committee for Women. Other associations, such as the Yemeni Network for Rights and Freedoms, held opposing sentiments which attributed the attack and the resulting bloodshed to the actions of the Houthi Ansar Allah forces.
Spokesperson of the Taiz military axis, Colonel Abdul Basit Al-Bahr, denied the accusations, emphasizing that the army strictly complies with the international laws of war which protects civilians and civilian objects. He added that despite receiving heavy fire from the Houthi Ansar Allah forces 3 days prior, the army did not retaliate given that the Houthi bases are situated amid villages populated by civilians — which he deems is an intentional strategy that puts civilians at risk by means of turning them into human shields.
Also in response to the allegations, the Director General of the Maqbana District, Hamid Al-Khalidi interviewed with Al-Mushahid to assert that the artillery shelling was fired by the Houthi Ansar Allah forces and that any claims otherwise are an effort by the Houthi Ansar Allah forces to cover up their own crimes, wherein not even civilian properties are spared. In contextualizing the site of the attack, Al-Khalidi remarked that the civilian’s house was located on the frontlines. Although the precise position of the civilian’s house was within the parameters of the Houthi-dominated area near the frontlines, Al-Harf 28 voiced that local and military sources still claim that the Houthi Ansar Allah forces launched the attack from the parts of the territory that they control. Such claims by the sources were not substantiated nor were they specific to this particular incident; rather, they were general remarks made to voice what they determined to be a regular pattern of bombing civilian homes by the Houthis, with this case being no different.
This seems unlikely, unless the attack was perhaps the result of a misfire, as it wouldn’t be sensible or logical for the Houthi Ansar Allah forces to target a location that falls under the zones of the territory that are already in their control. This holds especially true for frontlines wherein each party is struggling to extend its areas of control. Pragmatically, it’s more likely that the artillery shelling was fired by the Joint Forces of the western coast since the position of the house within the Houthi-side of the frontlines serves as a basic indicator that the bomb arrived from the opposing party.
Historically, both the Joint Forces of the western coast and the Houthi Ansar Allah forces have been complicit in patterns of attacks against civilian and civilian objects. The final report submitted to the UN Security Council in November 2023 from the Panel of Experts on Yemen revealed that attacks from different perpetrators resulted in a total of 1,436 civilian casualties from December 2022 to 31 August 2023. The panel’s earlier report in February 2023 offered more details, such as information on several attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure (including attacks in Taiz) from the Houthi Ansar Allah forces which culminated in 13 civilian deaths alongside 43 wounded. However, the report also wrote on the same violations committed by the Saudi-led coalition, concluding that their strikes resulted in 267 civilian casualties between January to March 2022. The latter far outnumbers the civilian impact of Houthi-led attacks. Therefore, historical patterns of attacks coupled with territorial control suggest the Joint Forces of the western coast as the likely perpetrator in this incident.
While Masar Media, a source identifying the Houthi Ansar Allah forces as the actor responsible behind the bombing, as well as Suhail TV Channel put the figures at 5 casualties and 12 injured, the Yemeni Press Agency records indicated 3 casualties and 14 injured as a result of the actions of the Joint Forces in the western coast. Both sources agreed on the identities of the victims; thus, the discrepancy originally laid in the harm sustained (deceased versus wounded) by two victims (Manser Al-Ezi Faisal Muhammad Muqbil and Abdul-Hay Saeed Muhammad). Both sources published their numbers on 25 August 2023, with the timestamp of Masar Media being 22:36 and the timestamp for the Yemeni Press Agency is unavailable. Later reports which covered the funeral confirmed that the final casualty count was 5 deaths. Therefore, it may have been the case that the Yemeni Press Agency reported on the matter earlier in the day before the 2 victims had passed away from their sustained injuries.
The wounded were attended to at the Model 48 Hospital. During their hospitalization, several members of the Shura Council including the Deputy Speaker (Dhaifullah Ressam), Secretary-General (Ali Abdul-Mughni), representative of the Al-Dhalea Governorate (Hussein Wasel), among others visited the patients and were informed of their injuries and respective treatments from hospital staff. The officials of the Shura Council spoke out against the attack and other “brutal” activities of the Saudi-led coalition.
- Abdo Faisal Muhammad Muqbil.
- Montaser Abdo Faisal Muhammad Muqbil (4 years old).
- Shajoun Al-Ezi Faisal Muhammad Muqbil (6 years old).
- Manser Al-Ezi Faisal Muhammad Muqbil (4 years old).
- Abdul-Hay Saeed Muhammad (10 years old).
- Ammar Saeed Muhammad Maqbil (6 years old).
- Faiza Faisal Muhammad Maqbil (11 years old).
- Majd Al-Din Abdo Faisal (2 years old).
- Nouria Hassan Saif (13 years old).
- Houria Hassan Farhan (15 years old).
- Safia Faisal Muhammad Maqbil (17 years old).
- Bashar Faisal Muhammad Maqbil.
- Safia Hassan Farhan.
- Wahba Ali Mohammed Maqbil.
- Anis Hassan Saif.
- Maryam Khadem.
- Saada Sharian Naji.
Four days after the attack, on 28 August 2023, funerary arrangements were made for the 5 victims who passed away. Mourners gathered in Akhdu’ Asfal and prayed together. Following the funeral, the crowd reportedly marched in protest against the international violations and aggression of the Joint Forces of the western coast towards civilians.
Available open-source information reveals that the artillery shelling of a civilian’s home in the Al-Ghawsha village of the Akhdu’ Asfal area, Maqbana district, western Taiz governorate occurred on 24 August 2023 between the hours of 18:00 to 19:39. The attack resulted in five fatalities, including four children, and left twelve others wounded, as well as significantly damaged hut(s) belonging to civilians in the area. Prior to the incident, there was an increase in military confrontations in the area as it appears to have been located nearby frontlines. While information points towards the Joint Forces of the western coast as the likely perpetrator of the attack, inconclusive details and conflicting narratives from various sources have made attributing responsibility challenging. The complexities of determining responsibility in conflict zones emphasize the need for continued scrutiny, evidentiary corroboration, and consideration of external reports for a more comprehensive understanding of the incident. Given that some aspects of the investigation remain inconclusive, mainly due to insufficient audio-visual information, it is imperative to continue preserving evidence via open-source channels related to the incident in an effort to facilitate future investigations and to bring a degree of closure to victims’ families and survivors — for whom no form of reparations have been proposed amid their pleas to the international community to bring an end to indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.
Apparent Breaches of International Law
This incident involves violations of the rights of civilians and civilian objects to be protected from indiscriminate attacks under International Humanitarian Law (IHL). In the Yemeni context, the facts of this event give rise to the following issues, which govern the applicability and relevance of different international laws:
- Which legal instruments explicitly ban attacks on civilian objects
- The applicability of those laws to a non-international conflict (within borders)
Attack on a civilian object
The principle of distinction is a cornerstone of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and dictates that certain people and objects must be protected from attacks during armed conflict by reason of their civilian status. All parties to an armed conflict are responsible for distinguishing between military and civilian targets and refraining from targeting civilian people or objects. The Yemeni conflict is between State and non-state actors and therefore is classified as a Non-International Armed Conflict (NIAC). While the lines between civilian and military objectives may become blurred at times in the context of a NIAC, that uncertainty does not release all parties from their obligation to refrain from targeted clearly civilian objectives.
There are three main sources of IHL that apply to NIAC’s such as the conflict in Yemen: Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocol II (1997), and the Customary Rules of International Humanitarian Law (ICRC). Both Common Article 3 and Additional Protocol II protect civilians and civilian communities but do not explicitly protect civilian objects, such as a home. However, the prohibition against targeting civilian objects has become a universally accepted customary rule enshrined in Rule 7 of the Customary Rules of Humanitarian Law, established by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Rule 7 states that all civilian objects must not be attacked unless they have been repurposed to achieve military objectives. This principle was also embodied in United Nations Resolutions as early as 1970 in General Assembly resolution 2675 and has also been included in recent resolutions, such as UNSC r2624 (2022) condemning directing attacks specifically against civilian objects in Yemen, and recent treaty law, namely in the Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (Article 3(7)). Additionally, in the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons case before the International Court of Justice, several states invoked the principle of distinction between civilian and military objects. In its opinion, the court stated that the principle of distinction was one of the “cardinal principles” of international humanitarian law in all conflicts.
Available open source information indicates that in this case the home was not a lawful object of attack. It was a civilian object that had not been converted into a military target or repurposed to suit military objectives. The home was not in any way contributing to the action of any party to the conflict, therefore it could not be considered a permitted object of military targeting. Additionally, collected documentation indicates there were multiple civilian casualties and injuries associated with the attack.
This type of violation may be prosecutable under International Criminal Law (ICL), including at the ICC under Rome Statutes Art. 8(2)(e)(i) which prohibits directing attacks against the civilian population, and Art. 8(2)(e)(xii) which prohibits the destruction of property of an adversary unless such destruction be “imperatively demanded by the necessities of the conflict.” In the analysis above, the Houthis, considered a “non-state” actor, were posited as the probable perpetrator. Although some instruments and avenues of redress under international law apply to state actors, the instruments implicated by the facts of this case apply with equal vigor to state as well as non-state actors. Although Yemen has signed but not ratified the Rome Statute, a state that has signed but not ratified a treaty is still obliged to refrain from “acts which would defeat the object and purpose” of the treaty, according to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.