DOHA (Reuters) - Airstrikes carried out by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen have hit schools that are still in use and disrupted the education of thousands of children in the war-torn country, Amnesty International said on Friday.
Five schools were hit between August and October 2015 in aerial bombardments that killed five civilians and injured 14, including four children, said the rights group in a report that calls for an investigation into the attacks ahead of U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Switzerland next week.
Students were not present inside the schools during the attacks, the report said.
A Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March to try to restore the government after it was toppled by Iran-allied Houthi forces. The mounting civilian death toll and destruction of roads, hospitals and other infrastructure has alarmed human rights groups.
A Saudi spokesperson, who could not immediately be reached for comment, has said in the past that the coalition does not target infrastructure or civilians.
“The Saudi Arabia-led coalition launched a series of unlawful air strikes on schools being used for educational – not for military – purposes,” said Lama Fakih, Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty International.
“On top of enduring a bitter conflict, Yemen’s young school pupils face longer term upheaval and disruption to their education,” she said.
Around 1.8 million Yemeni children - 34 percent of the school population - have not attended school since the conflict began in March, according to UNICEF. Nearly half of the 1,000 schools that are out of operation in Yemen are being used as shelters by families displaced by the violence.
The Arab coalition has accused the Houthis, who are mainly drawn from the Shi’ite Zaydi sect and who control the capital Sanaa, of using civilian buildings to store weapons.
Amnesty said it found no evidence the schools it investigated had been used for military purposes. It said that one school, a science college on the outskirts of the capital, had been bombed four times in the space of a few weeks.
“Right now we are living in fear and terror. Today I saw a plane and I was very afraid and terrified,” said a 12-year-old girl quoted in the report who attended a school in the Red Sea port Hodeidah that was destroyed by bombing in August.
Reporting by Tom Finn; Editing by Richard Balmforth