In anticipation of aid at a Sanaa charity event, hundreds of people crammed into a school when the disaster occurred.
At least 78 people were killed in a stampede that saw hundreds gather in the Yemeni capital to receive aid during the holy month of Ramadan.
Footage showed hundreds of civilians crammed in a tight alley, reportedly in a school, in Sanaa’s Bab al-Yemen neighbourhood late on Wednesday, hoping to receive $10 charitable donations being distributed by traders days ahead of Eid.
Security personnel tried to push people back and but was unable to keep the crowd under control. Videos showed the crowd yelling and screaming as people struggled to breathe in the chaos. Photos that emerged in the aftermath of the incident showed bloodstains, shoes, and victims’ clothing spread on the ground.
Witnesses said armed Houthis attempted to manage the crowds by firing into the air but hit what appeared to be an electrical wire that exploded caused panic.
Authorities in the Houthi-rebel controlled capital said the two merchants who organised the event had been detained and confirmed an investigation is ongoing. The Houthis claimed they would give each family who lost a relative roughly $2,000 in compensation, while the injured would receive around $400.
News of the stampede has triggered shock and sympathy across the Arab world, especially as it occurred just days ahead of the annual Eid Al-Fitr celebrations.
“There is no power but from God. May God have mercy on their situation…” said Al Sharq newspaper columnist Professor Abdulla Al Shayji on Twitter, followed by a heartbreak and crying face emoji.
Saddened by the horrific scenes, former director general of Al Jazeera network poured his emotions in a tweet saying: “The reality we face as Arabs is sad and unfortunate.”
“A sad and painful scene in Ramadan in a country that has thousands of years of civilisation and history, a rich country that has a strategic location yet citizens go to receive aid and die. What is this pain that Yemen has reached,” one Kuwaiti said on Twitter .
“Damn the despicable world that brought you to this level,” he added.
Yemen has been riddled in tragic conditions since the rebels overran the capital Sanaa in 2014, a move that prompted a Saudi-led coalition to militarily intervene in support of the government.
The years-long conflict between the two sides has killed hundreds of thousands and caused what the United Nations has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
More than 21 million people, or two-thirds of the population of Yemen, require aid and protection, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
However, hope emerged earlier this month after the conflicting parties announced steps that would essentially pave the way to the end of the war.
Last week, the chief Houthi negotiator, Mohammed Abdulsalam said negotiations with envoys from Saudi Arabia and Oman earlier this month were “serious and positive”.
“There was advancement on some issues with the hope of continuing studying outstanding issues at another time,” he said in a Twitter post.
Meanwhile, hundreds of detainees have been released in recent weeks as part of a prisoner exchange between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi rebels.