The death toll in Saturday’s strike on a mourning hall in Sana’a led the US to begin an “immediate review” of American support for the Saudi-led campaign to and to warn that “US security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank cheque”.
The UK government said the carnage caused by the strike was “shocking” but that it had not prompted any equivalent review of British support for the Saudi-led coalition.
“I am not aware that there is any plan at the moment to review our relations with Saudi Arabia,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said.
The UN estimates around 4,000 civilians have died since 2015 and that around 60 per cent of them were killed by the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes.
“Even as we assist Saudi Arabia regarding the defense of their territorial integrity, we have and will continue to express our serious concerns about the conflict in Yemen and how it has been waged,” the White House said.
“In light of this and other recent incidents, we have initiated an immediate review of our already significantly reduced support to the Saudi-led coalition and are prepared to adjust our support so as to better align with US principles, values and interests.”
Reuters reported that the US went ahead with a £1 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year despite concerns from some officials that the sale could implicate the US in any war crimes committed with the weapons.
Britain called for an investigation into Saturday’s airstrike and said it was comfortable with the Saudi military investigating its own forces, despite concerns raised by human rights groups.
“They have the best insight into their own military procedures and will be able to conduct the most through and conclusive investigations,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia released the results of its own investigations into eight different coalition strikes in Yemen.
It largely absolved itself of any wrongdoing and concluded that coalition forces had “adhered to international humanitarian law”. It acknowledged that in two cases the coalition had broken its own rules of engagement and offered to pay reparations to the families of dead civilians.
But the Saudi findings were at odds with conclusions drawn by the UN and aid groups like Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Saudi investigators concluded that the strike was justified because there were “huge numbers of armed Houthi rebels” inside the market.
The UN said there was no evidence that of any military targets inside the market at the time of the attack and warned that the attack might constitute a war crime.
MSF also challenged its findings on strikes that hit two of its hospitals and a mobile clinic.
Amnesty International said Saudi Arabia’s investigations so far showed it was “not committed to carrying out credible and impartial investigations that would lead to the prosecution of suspected perpetrators”.
A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition did not respond to a request for comment but the Saudi government has in the past pointed out that the British military investigates allegations against its own forces as do other militaries across the world.
The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen began in August 2015 after the Iranian-aligned Houthi rebel group ousted the internationally-recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Both Britain and the US support Mr Hadi’s government and backed the coalition of Arab countries headed by Saudi Arabia when it began bombing the Houthis and their allies.
Neither missile hit the USS Mason, a naval destroyer, but the attempted attack came just a week after a United Arab Emirates vessel came under fire from the Houthis.
Saturday’s strike was on a funeral hall in Yemen’s capital, where hundreds of people had turned up to pay respects after the death of a patriarch of a prominent family.
The strike appeared to be a “double tap” - when a target is bombed and then hit again a few minutes later to kill first responders who rush to the scene to help. Witnesses said the ruined building was filled with “a lake of blood”.
Britain has warned that “double tap” attacks carried out by Russia and the Syrian regime in Syria may be a war crime.
The coalition promised to investigate what it called the “regrettable and painful” strike and said it would invite US experts to participate in the investigation.
"The coalition is also willing to provide the investigation team with any data and information related to its military operations today, at the incident's location and the surrounding areas,” the coalition said.