(CNN) Officials confirmed that dozens of people were killed in a mass rally in the Yemeni capital on Wednesday as needy residents of the war-torn country flocked to receive charitable handouts from local merchants during the holy month of Ramadan.
Video of the Sana’a tragedy showed a chaotic scene with dozens of people crammed tightly together, unable to move and shouting for help.
Those trapped formed a tangled wall of corpses with some desperately stretching their arms out for help. Two released men are then seen trying to pull the others out of the deadly crowd. Post-accident photos showed piles of shoes and slippers and scarves strewn on the ground.
He explained, “What happened tonight is a tragic and painful accident, as dozens of people were killed as a result of a large stampede of a number of citizens due to the random distribution of sums of money by some merchants and without coordination with the Ministry of Interior.” A spokesman for the Houthi-run Ministry of Interior, Abdul Khaleq Al-Ajri, said in the statement.
Mutahar al-Marwani, director of the Houthi-run health office in Sanaa, told the Houthi-run al-Masirah news agency that at least 78 people were killed in the stampede and dozens wounded.
According to Reuters, hundreds of people crowded into a school to receive donations of about $9.
The incident came a few days before Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. During this time of the month, people begin to donate zakat al-fitr, or zakat for breaking the fast during Ramadan, to those in need.
Nasih Shaker, a journalist who was at the scene, told CNN that there was a “very long line of people” gathered at the entrance to the school, which was used to distribute food and financial aid. He said they started queuing after sundown in hopes of receiving donations.
When those in charge of distribution arrived and opened the door, “many people rushed into the school.”
“This is a catastrophe to find that people sacrificed their lives for only ten dollars,” Shaker said. “People are very hungry, very poor.”
The Interior Ministry statement said police and rescue teams rushed to the scene.
“The dead and wounded were taken to hospitals, and two merchants responsible for the matter were arrested,” the statement added.
The head of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, Mahdi Al-Mashat, ordered an investigation into the incident on Thursday.
The Houthi-run General Authority for Zakat announced in a statement that it will give one million Yemeni riyals (about $4,000) to each family of the crowd’s victims.
She also said that she would take care of the treatment of the injured and pay 200,000 Yemeni riyals (about $800) for each injured person.
The worst humanitarian crisis in the world
The United Nations has described Yemen as the worst in the world humanitarian crisis. Nine years of war have killed thousands, devastated the economy and left 21.6 million people – two-thirds of the country’s population – in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. According to the United Nations, tens of thousands of Yemenis are living in famine.
conflict in the country It started as a civil war in 2014, when Houthi forces stormed the capital, Sanaa, and overthrew the internationally recognized, Saudi-backed government. It escalated into a wider war in 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition intervened to try to defeat the Houthis.
But it eventually became A proxy war Between Iran – which has been accused of arming the Houthis – and Saudi Arabia, the main arena for their competition for regional influence.
On Sunday, a Saudi delegation arrived in Sanaa for talks with the Houthis It aims to secure a permanent cease-fire. Last Friday, the negotiations bore their biggest fruit yet with a three-day prisoner exchange for nearly 900 detainees from both sides. The Houthis’ chief negotiator, Mohammed Abdel Salam, said on Twitter on Friday that the talks were “serious and positive”.“
Yemeni journalist Shaker said Wednesday’s tragedy was the result of years of economic despair and the international community must “act now” to stop the war.
“People are no longer killed by air strikes or bombing by the warring parties. Now they are dying because they are running to get food,” he said.
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