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Combative Saudi foreign policy stirs international ire

AFP  |  Riyadh 

has sought to tame critics with an aggressive foreign policy, but a deadly air raid in following an acrimonious spat with will only amplify international pressure on the kingdom, analysts say.

An air strike by the Saudi-led coalition hit a bus in rebel-held northern yesterday, killing dozens of what said were school children, with the and both calling for an investigation.

The coalition insisted Huthi rebel combatants were aboard the bus, but international media have photographed dazed and bloodied children flooding into hospitals struggling to cope with a three-year conflict that the UN has dubbed the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"The war is becoming increasingly unpopular with the international community, including in the US Congress," Sigurd Neubauer, a analyst in Washington, told AFP.

"(This) attack has unfortunately become the norm and not the exception." The coalition has repeatedly been accused of striking civilians in since it launched an intervention in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognised government after the Iran-backed Shiite Huthi rebels drove it out of the capital

The coalition called yesterday's strike a "legitimate military action" in response to a rebel missile attack on Saudi Arabia's southern Jizan city a day earlier that resulted in the death of a Yemeni national.

But that did not quell the outpouring of global condemnation.

"NO EXCUSES ANYMORE!!" tweeted Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF's regional director in the and

"Does the world really need more innocent children's lives to stop the cruel war on children in Yemen?" Jan Egeland, of the Norwegian Refugee Council, tweeted: "Grotesque, shameful, indignant. Blatant disregard for rules of war when bus carrying innocent school children is fair game for attack." - 'Shutting the door to criticism' -

The bombing raid, part of an intervention that reflects Saudi Mohammed bin Salman's increasingly assertive foreign policy, follows the kingdom's diplomatic rupture with earlier this week.

expelled Canada's ambassador, recalled its own and froze all new trade and investments after publicly demanded the "immediate release" of rights campaigners jailed in the kingdom.

A furious also moved to pull out thousands of Saudi students from Canadian universities, suspended flights to Toronto, and the kingdom pledged to stop all medical treatment programmes in

The Saudi reaction could impinge on the kingdom's efforts to attract badly needed foreign investment to fund its ambitious reform plan to pivot the economy away from oil, experts say.

The move illustrates how the is unwilling to brook any criticism -- foreign or domestic -- under its young

"The top leadership is not particularly concerned with Canada's global influence," said analysis firm

"Instead, it is interested in shutting the door to broader criticism, also from European countries, and on other issues in the future." But Canadian has refused to back down and asserted that his country will continue to speak out on human rights.

Saudi officials privately insist that respect for cultural sensitivities and closed-door diplomatic engagement is a more effective approach than public denunciations of the kingdom.

Canada is quietly consulting and -- targets of previous Saudi backlashes for calling out the kingdom over human rights abuses -- to help resolve the row, according to a government source.

Canada also plans to reach out to regional heavyweight the and to Britain, which has strong historical ties to Canada has expressed disappointment that Western powers including the US -- which has provided arms worth billions of dollars to the Saudi-led coalition -- did not publicly support

"Absent a strong US voice (under Donald Trump) on human rights and democratic values, Arab leaders have become less willing to tolerate Western advice on either political reform of governance," said the

But the developments this week could complicate Riyadh's relationship with

"Trump has made relations with Saudi Arabia a central aspect of his approach to the But discontent against Saudi Arabia in the US is growing," Perry Cammack, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told AFP.

"There is a real possibility that (the) could move to constrain in a meaningful way the US military's involvement in the Yemen war." The row with Canada has also shone an uncomfortable spotlight on its European allies.

"The failure of Western allies to rally around Canada in its dispute with Saudi Arabia risks luring the kingdom into a false belief that economic sanctions will shield it from, if not reverse mounting criticism of its human rights record and conduct of the war in Yemen," said James Dorsey, a fellow at

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, August 10 2018. 18:00 IST