As the soldiers picked up the young boy’s body, they found a small key lying by his side.
Gently asking his devastated pal who was standing nearby what is was for, they were told: “They told us the key was for us to enter paradise if we were killed.”
The use of child soldiers in Yemen is truly shocking. Boys as young as nine have been kidnapped and forced to fight. There are numerous reports of them being raped and force-fed drugs. Others describe being given contraceptive pills, which they were told would help stem bleeding if they were injured in battle.
Some of the lucky ones are rescued from the battlefield and taken to a special school to help them recover.
Abdullah Al-Dhani was just 12 when he was kidnapped last year. Sitting in his new school, surrounded by table football machines and board games, I gently asked about what happened that day.
Speaking nervously, he recalled: “The Houthis first came to my house and asked to speak to my dad. They offered to buy me but, of course, he refused.
“The next day, I went to school as usual in my village but suddenly the men turned up there and kidnapped me. I was taken to a big city – I had never been there before. I stayed at an army base and they taught me how to shoot guns.
“We were all hungry but were only given dry bread. The soldiers were fed well and we were allowed, if we had been good, to have their leftovers. After a week or so, they sent me and my friends to the front line, where we were used as human shields. Before we went on the mission they made us take a pill – I don’t know what it was but it made me feel different.
“There were four of us there – one of my friends was killed. A huge missile hit and I saw his body on the ground. Shrapnel from the missile hit me in the knee – I still have a big scar there now. I was taken to a hospital and then what they called a recovery house.”
He goes on: “The adults gave me some money for food and left me while they went back to battlefield. I waited until it was clear and then ran away – my knee was hurting but I had to do it. I got on a bus and then another bus and eventually I was smuggled here to Marib, where I came to this school. Two friends are still fighting. I was one of the lucky ones.”
The war started in 2014, when Houthis overran the capital, Sanaa, deposing the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Concerned by the rise of the Iran-backed Houthis, Saudi Arabia – supported by the UK and US – launched a massive air campaign to try to reinstall Hadi’s government. Both sides blame each other for the conflict, and accuse the other of committing war crimes.
The Houthis use children to boost the number of soldiers in their fight against the Yemeni army, which is backed by the Saudis, the UK and the US. The boys, who are given basic guns, are often killed by the vastly superior weapons –some made in the UK – of the Yemenis.