Yemen: The first commercial flight since 2016 departed from Sanaa Airport today
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A Yemenia plane took off from Sanaa today, the first commercial flight in six years to depart from the Yemeni capital’s airport controlled by Shiite rebel Houthis as part of a ceasefire agreed in April.
The plane, bound for Amman, Jordan, was carrying about 100 Yemenis, mostly sick or elderly.
“I am so happy for the reopening of Sanaa Airport,” said Latifa, a passenger in a wheelchair. “Today is a day of celebration and I hope this continues, God willing,” he added with tears in his eyes.
The plane took off shortly after 09:00 (local time and Greek time), while another is expected to depart from Amman in the direction of Sanaa later in the afternoon.
Houthi rebels seized the Yemeni capital in 2014, sparking a bloody clash with the government.
The internationally recognized government of Yemen, with the support of a military coalition under Saudi Arabia, has been fighting since 2015 against the Shiite Houthi rebels, who are supported by Iran.
The coalition controls Yemen’s airspace and sea, including rebel-held areas. As of 2016, only UN flights were allowed from Sanaa Airport.
The Houthis accuse Riyadh of imposing an “embargo” on Yemen, while the Saudis say they want to curb illegal arms sales and other illegal activities.
The two warring parties agreed on a ceasefire, which took effect on April 2nd and is initially expected to last two months, offering a glimmer of hope to Yemen’s 30 million people facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
The ceasefire provides, in addition to the ceasefire, for the opening of Sanaa Airport for commercial flights.
However, these long-awaited flights will not be enough to meet the “huge needs” of Yemen’s population, which is largely cut off from the rest of the world, warned Raid Jabal, deputy chairman of the Civil Protection Agency. “We call on the UN and the relevant authorities to reopen Sanaa airport permanently for all the people of Yemen, without any restrictions or conditions,” he told reporters shortly before the departure of the first flight.
In a statement, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) hailed the first flight as “one of the main objectives of the ceasefire”.
“If the warring parties continue to work together on regular flights to and from Sanaa, they will be able to save thousands of lives, prevent premature deaths and support the country’s economy,” said Erin Hutchinson, NRC Yemen.
The war has caused the collapse of Yemen’s economy – the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula – and its infrastructure, especially its hospitals.
The war has killed nearly 380,000 people (direct and indirect victims of the war) and displaced millions more, most of them living in makeshift refugee camps in miserable conditions, facing illness and lack of drinking water.
Moreover, a large part of the population lives in conditions of acute hunger and is threatened by famine.