Block­ade strands thou­sands of Ye­me­nis

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Leav­ing Ye­men is now an unattain­able dream for Ab­dul­salam Khaled who can­not travel de­spite be­ing awarded a schol­ar­ship to pur­sue his ed­u­ca­tion in In­dia, be­cause of a Saudi-led coali­tion block­ade. Khaled is one of thou­sand of peo­ple in­side and out­side Ye­men who have been blocked from en­ter­ing or leav­ing the wartorn 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,” he added. 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 rec­og­nized government. The coali­tion has since en­forced a mar­itime and air block­ade on what was al­ready the Ara­bian Penin­sula’s poor­est coun­try.

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 casesstu­dents, pa­tients, pas­sen­gers and many oth­ers can­not travel,” said Sanaa air­port chief Khaled AlShayef. Many oth­ers 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 said.

“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 block­ade. 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 call ig­nored

Ad­ham Mus­sal­lam, deputy di­rec­tor of the World Food Pro­gram 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 em­bargo, 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 block­ade 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, be­cause of the block­ade, since the col­lapse of the peace talks in Kuwait. Sanaa res­i­dent Mo­hammed Al-Wadee said that lift­ing the block­ade 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 said. 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. — AFP

SANAA: Ye­meni chil­dren play at a mar­ket in the old city of the cap­i­tal Sanaa. — AFP

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