The reopening of Sana`a Airport was part of the negotiations that took place in Sweden last year, but Saudi Arabia has refused to implement an agreement that would ease human suffering.
SANA`A, YEMEN — Mohamed Abdel Rahman al-Rubai, the Secretary-General of the Union of Popular Forces (a long-standing Yemeni political party), died on Sunday in his home in Yemen’s capital Sana`a, when his doctors were unable to transfer him for treatment abroad owing to the closure of Sana`a International Airport by the Saudi-led Coalition. The Coalition has closed the airport since 2016 and its devastating blockade of Yemen’s ports is now in its fifth year.
Al-Rubai, a high-ranking politician and parliamentarian, refused to support Coalition but did not call for resistance or fighting it. The Coalition nevertheless prevented him from traveling abroad for treatment. As in al-Rubai’s case, travel outside Yemen has become a distant dream for thousands of Yemenis stranded by the war in the country, as the Coalition has blocked even humanitarian flights from Sana`a Airport.
In the wake of al-Rubai`s unnecessary death, Mohammed Abdulsalam, a spokesman for Yemen’s Houthi Ansar Allah movement, said:
We had repeatedly informed the United Nations about the health condition of al-Rubai, who required treatment abroad. Unfortunately, the world body gave in to Saudi Arabia’s demands, and could not do anything to lift the siege on Sana`a Airport.”
The Saudi-UAE forces have blocked all Yemeni airports except for Aden and Sayoun airports, which often stop working. The two airports receive only Yemeni Airlines and Balqis Airlines planes – five planes in total. Al-Rayyan Airport in the city of Mukalla — the capital of Hadramout, in the southeast of Yemen — has been closed by UAE forces, which use it as a secret prison to arrest and torture its Yemeni opponents.
The five planes operating in Yemen through Aden and Sayoun airports in the south of the country are supposed to serve thousands of Yemenis, but the flights are mostly dominated by Coalition leaders, who cancel trips without any prior warning. In the last month, the Coalition canceled three flights of Bilqis and six flights of Yemen State Airlines, including three flights for Saturday and Sunday. A source in the Yemeni Airlines told Mint Press that the Coalition cancels flights without giving reasons.
Mutasim al-Adini, head of the Yemeni regional airport office, told al Jazeera
“We send messages to the Coalition, every time there is a cancellation, that the cancellation of flights causes suffering to passengers, including humanitarian cases and patients in critical cases, but we do not receive any response.”
Moreover, the Coalition does not allow Yemen to operate Sana`a Airport as a domestic airport nor does it allow local airlines to operate flights to Aden and Sayoun airports or any other airports. Residents in northern areas wanting to travel abroad need to think hard before they make the decision to travel through Coalition-controlled areas, where they face humiliating and dangerous checkpoints, high costs, and great distance that often kills patients before they arrive.
A daily roll of unnecessary death
Alarming statistics from the Ministry of Health in Sana`a indicate that at least 20 to 30 patients die every day because of the closure of the airport, while there were 40,000 patients who needed to travel for treatment, who have already died. The closure of Sana`a Airport effectively seals Yemen off from the rest of the world, and dooms the 250,000 patients who need to travel abroad to treatment, while hospitals that are still operating within Yemen urgently require more medicine and medical supplies.
The airports blockade coincides with ongoing airstrikes on Sana`a and other parts of Yemen, which continuously put the lives of Yemeni civilians at serious risk. Since the beginning of this month, there have already been dozens of civilian casualties, including children, from renewed aerial bombardments.
Moreover, many doctors have fled the country, with deadly diseases spreading and health centers destroyed, shut down, or crippled by loss of their government funding in the economic war.
Mariem Ahmed Jabber, a 45-year-old mother of five, was in the last days of pregnancy, living in the village of al Dareb, in the northern province of Amran. Mariem had a heart valve disease and needed to be operated on outside of Yemen but could not travel abroad because of the airports blockade. “Doctors have told us that it is difficult to have a heart catheter for a pregnant woman, so we have to travel to Jordan,” Nashan Jabber, son of Mariem, told MintPress.
Like Mariem, all Yemenis awaiting critical medical treatment abroad must find alternative routes to leave the country, including smuggling. Reaching other places also involves driving for 20 hours to reach Oman, which receives wounded Yemeni patients, at a cost of around $200 and usually travelling through areas where active fighting is taking place. And that is just the beginning of the ordeal.
Invalidating passports means taking lives
In March 2017, the government of the ousted former President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, on direct order from the Coalition, announced the cancellation of the services provided by the Immigration and Passports in the capital Sana`a and the invalidity of all documents — including passports, entry visas for foreigners, residence permits, refugee cards, naturalization certificates and marriage licenses — issued by it. This means that millions of Yemenis, especially in the north, have no identity and can not travel unless they get a new identity from Coalition authorities in Aden.
Mariem, who died from her illness in the months after the March 2017 announcement, had a passport issued in 2012 by Immigration and Passports in Sana`a before the Houthis seized control of the Capital and renewed in 2016. “My mother`s health did not allow her to travel to Aden to obtain a new passport,” Nashawan Jabber told MintPress.
Targeting Saudi-Coalition airports
Nashwan remembers well his mother’s words that “Saudi Arabia does not want good for all Yemenis.” Now he has volunteered as a Yemeni fighter and decided to join the Jizan front. Like many of his Yemeni brothers, he believes that the siege on Yemen can be lifted only “if the venom is turned outward … to those [Saudis-UAE] truly deserving of it.”
As a result of mounting pressure, the Houthi Ansarullah movement announced on Sunday the airports of countries involved in the devastating military war and blockade against Yemen will be targeted as long as the embargo imposed on Sana`a International Airport remains in place.
Mohammad Abdulsalam, spokesman for the Houthis, said the blockade on Sana`a International Airport is something that cannot be tolerated at all and the Saudi aggressors must know that their airports are within firing range.
The Yemeni army has already begun targeting airports of Saudi Arabia. On Wednesday, Yemeni forces struck the Abha Airport with a cruise missile and brought a halt to air traffic in the area. The cruise missile — which the advanced U.S. systems defense provided to the Saudi regime had failed to intercept — directly hit the airport’s air traffic control tower and put it out of service.
Saudi Arabia has confirmed the Abha strike. The spokesman for the Saudi-led Coalition, Turki al-Maliki, said a Yemeni missile hit the airport’s arrivals hall, causing material damage. He claims that the attack wounded 26 civilians of different nationalities.
On Monday, Yemeni forces launched drone attacks on the King Khaled Air Base in Khamis Mushayt in Saudi Arabia’s southwestern Asir region. The Qasif-2K combat drones targeted advanced weapon stores, radar and control rooms, according to a military source speaking to MintPress
On Sunday, Yemen’s army launched drone attacks on the airport in Saudi Arabia’s southwestern Jizan region. The attacks by Qasif-2K combat drones targeted drone bunkers and stations at the Jizan airport, a source told MintPress. There have been no Saudi comments on the attacks so far.
A military source told MintPress that the attacks will continue until the lifting of the restriction on Sana`a Airport. “King Khalid International Airport, Dubai International Airport and Abu Dhabi International Airport will be targeted,” he added. Houthis have always targeted airports in Saudi Arabia and the UAE with ballistic missiles and drones, but this is the first time that multiple drones have been used in one attack.
The reopening of Sana`a Airport was part of the negotiations that took place in Sweden last year, but Saudi Arabia has refused to implement an agreement that would ease human suffering. Despairing patients ask Yemen’s army to hit Coalition airports as their last hope to lift the siege on Sana`a International Airport. “The attacks on the countries of the Saudi-led aggression sure would be the most efficient way to end the blockade,” Nashwan said.
Feature photo | Bare shelves in a government hospital’s drug store in Sanaa, Yemen, August 16, 2017. Khaled Abdullah | Reuters
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.