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Aid Groups in Yemen Call For Airport To Reopen

By Linda Gradstein | The Media Line

August 10, 2017

Image shows the former states which unified to form modern Yemen (Graphic: Wild Star Life)
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Warn of Growing Humanitarian Crisis

Fifteen aid groups have called on warring parties in Yemen to reopen the war-torn countries main airport, saying that the year-long closure is preventing thousands of patients from flying abroad for critical medical treatment, and is preventing aid from reaching the country.

“The official closure of Sanaa airport, one year ago today, effectively traps millions of Yemeni people and serves to prevent the free movement of commercial and humanitarian goods,” the statement signed by groups including the International Rescue Committee and the Norwegian Refugee Council said.

Aid groups hope to raise public awareness toward reopening the airport.

“There are many serious patients who need treatment abroad and would have been flown out of Sanaa (Yemen’s capital),” Iolanda Jaquemet, public relations officer for Near and Middle East of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva, told The Media Line. “Now they need to take the road, and the country is crisscrossed by front lines making the whole journey hazardous. The entire health system in Yemen is on its knees.”

Jaquemet said that the ongoing cholera epidemic is a good example. In April, she said, the sewage pumping system in Sanaa shut down because there was no fuel to run it. Ten days later, the cholera outbreak started.

“Cholera is a waterborne disease spread in densely populated areas with deteriorating hygiene,” she said. “There are heaps of garbage lining the streets because the municipal workers haven’t been paid in months. The entire health system is on its knees.”

She said the ICRC’s latest figures show 480,000 cases of cholera since April and 1,957 deaths. While the pace of the increase of the epidemic has slowed, they expect it to reach 600,000 in the coming months.

Yemen has been torn apart by a civil war in which the exiled government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, is trying to push back gains made by the Houthi group which is aligned with Iran. The Houthis control most of the north, including the capital Sanaa and its international airport while the Saudi-led coalition controls the airspace. Any reopening would need an agreement between the two sides, which blame each other for Yemen’s humanitarian disaster.

In effect, Yemen has become the staging ground for a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“Saudi involvement began in March 2015, as they saw the Houthi attempt to take over Yemen as a threat to the regional status quo, and potentially that there would be a hostile government in their backyard loyal to Iran. Riyadh saw the Houthis as an Iranian instrument with the potential to take over Yemen’s entire government structure, which would not only threaten Saudi Arabia’s southern border, but also marine traffic in the Red Sea as well as the greater eastern Horn of Africa,” Brandon Friedman of the

Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at the Tel Aviv University told The Media Line. “The Saudi goal in Yemen may be limited. They don’t necessarily need to defeat the Houthis, but rather simply keep them on their heels. The over-arching aim is to show the Iranians that they will not be able to set up shop in Yemen like they have in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.”

The health system in Yemen is barely functioning. Only about 45 percent of hospitals and clinics are even open, and doctors and nurses have not been paid in months. Meanwhile the fighting continues.

A new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that at least 30 civilians died and over 160 others injured when Houthi armed groups and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh shelled the city of Taiz.

Over a 10-day period in May 2017, HRW documented seven attacks that killed at least 30 civilians, and wounded over 160 others, according to doctors in local hospitals. Middle East director at Human Rights Watch Sarah Leah Whitson stated that Houthi-Saleh forces’ shelling of populated areas of Taiz has taken a terrible toll on civilians.

“Houthi-Saleh commanders should immediately halt these indiscriminate attacks, and Yemeni government forces should ensure that their own forces are not launching similarly unlawful attacks outside the city,” Whitson added in a HRW statement.

 

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