Coalition ‘controls’ on Yemen strand thousands
He is just one of thousands of people inside and outside Yemen who have been blocked from entering or leaving the war-torn country.
The 34-year-old had been hoping to obtain a master’s degree in English-language studies, but all he can do now is wander the streets of Yemen’s rebel-held capital Sanaa, lamenting his bad luck.
“Because the airport is closed, I’m now stuck and can’t travel,” he said, showing AFP his scholarship documents.
“There are other airports in Yemen I could have flown from, but unfortunately we can’t reach them because of security problems.”
Yemen has been rocked by conflict since Iran-backed rebels overran Sanaa and other large parts of the country, prompting military intervention by a Saudi-led coalition in March 2015 in support of the internationally recognised government.
The coalition has since enforced maritime and air controls over what was already the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.
Coalition spokesman Major General Ahmed Assiri denied on Tuesday that there was a “blockade” on Yemen.
“No, there is no blockade,” he told AFP. “There is control based on international law” to prevent the rebels from obtaining arms.
Several rounds of UN-brokered peace talks aimed at ending the war have been fruitless.
Sanaa international airport was shut when the coalition resumed air strikes on August 9 around the city after the last round of peace talks in Kuwait collapsed.
It reopened days later, but only for humanitarian flights which have to notify the coalition in advance.
– ‘People dying every day’ –
Before August 9, the sole operator still serving Sanaa — national carrier Yemenia — ran only a few scheduled commercial flights to Amman, Cairo and Nairobi.
“There are thousands of cases — students, patients, passengers and many others cannot travel,” said Sanaa airport chief Khaled al-Shayef. Many people have also been stranded outside the country, unable to return home.
Mazen al-Soufi, who directs air traffic at the facility, spoke of “huge damage” caused by the airport’s closure.
“More than 20,000 people stuck outside Yemen want to come home,” he told AFP.
“Many people in critical medical condition die every day because of the siege of Sanaa international airport,” he added.
Soufi confirmed that there are “students who have lost their seats in universities” because of the coalition restrictions.
UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen Jamie McGoldrick has said that “one of the bigger problems we face” is that “Yemeni air flights still don’t come to Sanaa”.
“We call on all the parties to allow these flights to resume back into Sanaa so that people can get much needed respite,” he told reporters.
Damage to infrastructure has hampered aid deliveries, already threatened by the security situation across the country where Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have gained ground, especially in the south.
– Ceasefire renewal call ignored –
Adham Mussallam, deputy director of the World Food Programme in Yemen, acknowledges “difficulties in humanitarian work” throughout the country where millions need food and medical aid.
“Getting permission to bring in aid to Yemen needs four to five months,” he said. “There are a lot of difficulties.”
The warring parties ignored a UN call to renew a fragile 72-hour ceasefire to allow aid deliveries. It officially ended at midnight on Saturday.
The coalition had already said it would continue its air and maritime control, to prevent weapons shipments reaching the rebels.
However, the coalition did make an exception following one of its deadliest attacks.
On October 8, an air raid on a funeral ceremony killed 140 people and wounded 525, drawing severe criticism of the Arab alliance which is logistically supported by Washington.
After the raid, which the coalition said took place because of “incorrect information”, the Arab alliance eased the measures to allow an Omani aircraft to evacuate from Sanaa more than 100 of the most seriously wounded in the strike.
The same aircraft also flew home to Sanaa rebel negotiators who had been stranded in the Omani capital Muscat since the collapse of the peace talks in Kuwait.
Sanaa resident Mohammed al-Wadee said that lifting the controls on movement is absolutely vital.
“It’s been (almost) two years that the Yemenis have been suffering from the siege and paying a high price” for the war, he told AFP.
Among them is Khaled, his plans for further education shattered.
“I’m unable to get my master’s degree, even in the near future,” he said, shrugging hopelessly.
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