YEMENI passengers leave the airport following their arrival in Amman.—AFP
YEMENI passengers leave the airport following their arrival in Amman.—AFP

SANAA: The first commercial flight in nearly six years took off from Yemen’s rebel-held capital on Monday, a major step forward in a peace process that has provided rare relief from conflict.

The Yemenia plane carrying 126 passengers, including hospital patients needing treatment abroad and their relatives, took off from Sanaa for the Jordanian capital Amman just after 9am (0600 GMT).

Before take-off, the plane with red-and-blue tail livery taxied through an honour guard of two fire trucks spraying jets of water. It landed in Amman before 0900 GMT.

Sanaa’s airport has been closed to commercial traffic since August 2016 because of air strikes by the Saudi-led military coalition, who are fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Move hailed as a major step towards peace; plane carrying 126 passengers lands in Jordanian capital

“I’m so happy with the opening of Sanaa airport,” said Lutfiyah, a wheelchair-bound passenger who did not want to give her full name. “Today is a day of celebration, and I hope that it remains open.”

Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, has been wracked with war since the coalition stepped in to support the government in 2015, a year after the Houthis seized control of the capital.

According to UN figures, more than 150,000 people have died in the violence and millions have been displaced, creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

But a truce has been in place since April 2, coinciding with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramazan.

Five days after it took effect, Yemen’s Saudi-based president handed his powers to a leadership council tasked with holding peace talks with the rebels.

Resuming flights from Sanaa, working to reopen roads to the rebel-besieged city of Taez and allowing fuel tankers into the Houthi-held port of Hodeida — a lifeline for Yemen — were all part of the truce agreement.

UN special envoy Hans Grundberg called Monday’s flight an “important and long-awaited step”. The agreement provides for two return flights to Amman and Cairo.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2022

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