(Sanaa) A stampede left at least 85 dead and hundreds injured Thursday in Yemen during a charity action, a new tragedy hitting the poor country as it hoped to turn the page on a devastating war.

The disaster occurred overnight in Sanaa, the capital of rebel-held Yemen, where hundreds of people had gathered at a school in the old city to receive aid of 5,000 riyals, about eight dollars, distributed by a trader.

“ Three traders were arrested ”, announced a security official in Sanaa, without further details.

Footage released by Al Masirah TV, the Houthi rebels’ television channel, shows a dense crowd and people climbing over each other in an attempt to force their way through.

Some struggle, as guards in military uniform try to push them in the opposite direction.

In another video, we see bodies on the ground, in general panic.

Some witnesses say gunshots caused the crowd to move, which could not be independently verified by AFP.

“At least 85 people were killed, and more than 322 were injured,” a Houthi security official in Sanaa told AFP. This report was confirmed by an official of the local medical authorities.

“Children are among the deceased” and about fifty injured are in serious condition, according to the official who spoke on condition of anonymity, not being authorized to speak to the media.

This tragedy has plunged Yemen into mourning a few days before the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, when the country hoped to finally emerge from the war.

The Houthis, close to Iran, took the capital in 2014, prompting the intervention a few months later of a military coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, to support government forces.

The war left hundreds of thousands dead and plunged this country, the poorest on the Arabian Peninsula, into one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

Efforts to end the conflict have intensified in recent weeks, with the visit of a Saudi delegation to Sanaa and an exchange of nearly 900 prisoners between the two enemy camps.

Sanaa authorities attributed the disaster to “overcrowding” in the narrow street leading to the school.

“When the doors opened, the crowd rushed up the stairs leading to the schoolyard where the distribution was planned”, wrote on Twitter Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a member of the rebels’ Supreme Political Council.

The rebels published a video in which a child, lying on a hospital bed, recounts having been injured when a “ huge crowd fell ” on him.

According to another witness interviewed by the Houthis, citizens had “been informed almost a week ago that money would be distributed unconditionally. People then flocked in large numbers.”

This stampede is among the deadliest crowd movements in the world for ten years, according to an AFP count.

It comes as some 30 million Yemenis are exhausted by more than eight years of war.

In a context of epidemics, lack of drinking water and famine, more than three quarters of the population depend on international aid, which nevertheless continues to decline.

In rebel-held areas, including the capital, many civil servants have not been paid for months.

The country has seen its share of tragedies in recent years, including in 2016 when a coalition raid left 140 dead during a funeral.

Another raid on a school bus killed dozens of children in 2018.

In January 2022, 70 people were killed in an airstrike on a prison in Saada, in the north, and 45 migrants died in March of the same year in the fire of a center controlled by the rebels.