First commercial flight from Sanaa postponed in six years


The first commercial flight from Yemen’s rebel-held capital in six years was indefinitely postponed on Sunday as a blow to an already fragile truce in the country’s protracted conflict, as rival parties traded blame for the flight delay.

The Sanaa-Amman flight was planned as part of the United Nations ceasefire that struck the internationally recognized government and Houthi rebels earlier this month.

The 60-day truce, which took effect on April 2, came amid concerted international and regional efforts to find a solution to the conflict that devastated the Arab world’s poorest country and is on the brink of famine. brought.

The Saudi-led military coalition launched a war in early 2015 in support of internationally recognized President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was forced into exile for months after the Iranian-backed Houthis took Sanaa and much of northern Yemen.

In recent years, the conflict has grown into a regional proxy war that has killed more than 150,000 people, including at least 14,500 civilians. It has also led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

blame game

As part of the ceasefire, the two sides agreed to operate two commercial flights per week to and from Sanaa to Jordan and Egypt. Sanaa is being blocked by the Saudi-led coalition that is blocking the delivery of essential goods, including life-saving medicines.

However, more than three weeks after the ceasefire came into effect, the two sides failed to agree on how to operate the flight. They have exchanged the blame for the failure.

Authorities in Sanaa called it a “violation” of the ceasefire and said the flight was postponed after the necessary permits were refused from the Saudi-led coalition.

In Houthi-controlled Sanaa, deputy chief of civil aviation, Raed Talib Jabal, said the coalition’s refusal to allow Sunday’s flight was “a violation of the ceasefire” that began earlier this month.

“The Coalition of Aggression is deliberately trying to double the suffering of the Yemeni people while trying to mislead international public opinion about the humanitarian dossier,” he said.

Yemen’s government blamed Iran-backed Houthi rebels for the delay, claiming they had attempted to “smuggle” members of the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah into flight.

Moammar al-Eryani, information minister of the internationally recognized government, said the Houthis breached the agreement by providing passengers with passports issued by the rebels, which they have not recognized since March 2017.

He said the government allowed the travel of 104 passengers on the Sanaa-Amman flight, but the Houthis insisted on adding 60 more passengers “with dodgy passports” using “false names and forged documents”.

The flight “faltered because the Houthi terrorist militias did not comply with the agreement that approved passports issued by the legitimate government,” al-Eryani said.

A Houthis spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

‘Big disappointment’

UN Special Envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg expressed concern about the delay and urged the parties to work with his office “to find a solution that would allow flights to resume as planned”.

A two-month renewable ceasefire that came into effect in early April “is designed to benefit civilians, including by reducing violence, making fuel available and improving their freedom of movement to, from and within their countries.” he said on Sunday.

Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) also expressed “deep disappointment” over the flight cancellation.

“This would have been a first small but important step towards long-term stability in Yemen. It is also a life-saver for tens of thousands of medical patients in urgent need of urgent treatment abroad,” NRC Yemen Country Director Erin Hutchinson said in a statement.

“We hope that both sides abide by their ceasefire obligations, including allowing flights from Sana’a airport and opening roads to Taiz and other governorates.”

The plane, operated by the flag carrier Yemenia, was expected to take off from the government-controlled southern port city of Aden, make a stop in Sanaa and take passengers in need of medical treatment to the Jordanian capital, Amman.

But hours before the flight, the airline said “it has not yet received any operating licenses”. It expressed “deep regret to travelers for not being allowed to operate” the highly anticipated flight.

Yemen added that it hoped that “all problems will be overcome in the near future”, without specifying a date.

Sick passengers stranded

The flight delay was a setback to a ceasefire that has provided a rare respite from violence across much of the country, and has also seen fuel tankers arrive at the port of Hodeidah, potentially alleviating fuel shortages in Sanaa and elsewhere.

In another potentially hopeful sign, Yemeni President Hadi handed over his powers on April 7 to a new leadership council charged with conducting peace talks with the Houthis.

Sanaa airport has been closed to commercial traffic since August 2016 when air strikes disrupted service to the city.

Relief flights continue to land in Sanaa, although the service has been discontinued on a regular basis.

The interruption of commercial flights has prevented “thousands of sick Yemeni citizens from seeking emergency medical treatment outside the country,” humanitarian organizations CARE and NRC said last August.

They also cited “economic losses estimated in the billions”.

Daily flights from Aden and the eastern city of Seiyun fly both domestically and to other countries in the region.

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