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The UN has added the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen to its annual list of shame for killing hundreds of children in 2016. Saudi Arabia rejected the report and said it took effort to avoid civilian casualties.
The United Nations said 683 children were killed or injured in Saudi-led attacks that struck dozens of schools and hospitals in Yemen last year.
The coalition had also been briefly added to the list of shame in 2016, but was temporarily removed due to what then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described as "undue pressure" from Saudi Arabia.
Ban said at the time that Saudi Arabia had threatened to cut humanitarian funding if it were placed on the list. Saudi Arabia denied threatening the UN boss.
The Houthi rebel group, Yemeni government forces, pro-government militia and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were also all added to the UN list, which said they failed to protect children.
Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the UN, rejected the report on Friday, saying it was "inaccurate and misleading."
"We exercise the maximum degree of care and precaution to avoid civilian harm," he said. "The kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the coalition reaffirm that it is taking important measures to protect civilians during all military operations to end the suffering of the Yemeni people and minimize the humanitarian cost."
The Saudi-led Arab military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 to support President Abd-Rabu Mansour Hadi's government after Houthis rebels forced him into exile. More than 10,000 people have been killed in the more than two years old civil war.
The United Nations in September agreed to send a team of experts to Yemen to examine human rights violations committed during the ongoing war, despite initial resistance from Saudi Arabia.
Read more: Yemen: Between conflict and collapse
A split blacklist
In a bid to dampen controversy, for the first time, the new list in the annual report on children in armed conflict has been split into two parts by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Both list parties that recruit, use, kill, maim, rape, sexually, abuse or abduct children in armed conflict or attack schools and hospitals.
However, one of the lists catalogs parties "that have put in place measures during the reporting period to improve the protection of children," which includes the Saudi-led coalition and the other includes parties that have not taken any action to ensure children are not violated.
Guterres said the blacklist was "not only to raise awareness" but also to "promote measures that can diminish the tragic plight of children in conflict."
The UN chief spoke with Saudi King Salman by phone ahead of the release of the list, which UN officials had shared with Riyadh months earlier to avoid a repeat of last year's episode.
Human Rights Watch called on the international community to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia until it stops killing children.
"The coalition needs to stop making empty promises to exercise caution, take concrete action to stop these deadly unlawful attacks in Yemen, and allow desperately needed fuel and aid to reach those in need," said Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "Until this happens, governments should suspend all Saudi weapons sales," she said.
Read more: Yemen's war explained in 4 key points
More than 10,000 people have been killed in the war that started in 2014 and that has ruined the economy and pushed millions to the brink of famine.
The children's deaths and injuries in Yemen were among the more than 8,000 deaths and injuries to children in conflicts around the globe, according to the UN list.
ap/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)