Yemen rebel youth minister urges children to join war
SANAA - The youth minister in war-torn Yemen's rebel government on Friday proposed suspending school classes for a year and sending pupils and teachers to the front.
Hassan Zaid, minister for youth and sports in an administration set up by Iran-backed Huthi rebels and not internationally recognised, suggested pupils and teachers could be armed.
"Wouldn't we be able to reinforce the ranks with hundreds of thousands (of fighters) and win the battle?" he wrote on Facebook.
Yemen has been devastated by a war between the Huthis, who control the capital Sanaa, and the internationally-recognised government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition.
A teachers' strike in rebel territory, in protest at salaries going unpaid for around a year, delayed the start of the school year by two weeks.
When they did open on Sunday, classrooms were largely empty.
Social media users responded angrily to the minister's post.
"What if we let the students study and sent the ministers and their bodyguards to the front?" one wrote.
"That would give us victory and a prosperous future."
Zaid criticised those who complained about his proposal.
"People close the schools under the pretext of a strike and when we think about how to take advantage of this situation, they take offence," he said.
UNICEF estimates 13,146 schools, or 78 percent of all of Yemen's schools, have been hit by the salary crunch, while nearly 500 schools have been destroyed by the conflict, repurposed as shelters or commandeered by armed factions.
More than 8,650 people have been killed, including over 1,550 children, since the Saudi-led coalition joined the Yemen war in 2015, sparking a humanitarian disaster, according to the United Nations.
Human rights organisations accuse both sides of recruiting child soldiers.