Yemen’s Sanaa airport has opened for commercial flights for the first time in six years

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SANAA, Yemen – The brothers arrived at the airport early in the morning, pushing their elderly mother in a wheelchair and boarding a flight, hoping to save her life.

They hurried to their gate to a compound that had apparently been damaged by fighting and abuse. The glass of some windows is broken. Some parts of the roof have collapsed.

But putting the war marks aside, the airport was able to conduct a scene of almost normalcy on Monday, when the first commercial flights since 2016 landed and landed on its runway – giving the Yemeni civilians a glimmer of hope after years of war.

For Walid and Mohammed Hamza, Monday‚Äôs trip to Amman, Jordan – just a few months ago unimaginable – could mean the difference between life and death for their mother Lutfi, whose multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. Like many other Yemenis, they previously had to resort to long and dangerous road trips to reach the working airports in southern Aden or Seoun, traveling abroad, daring checkpoints on both sides of the country’s war and sometimes taking rough routes to avoid. Active front line.

This year, as their mother’s condition deteriorated, the brothers feared that the treacherous journey was so risky that it would not be worth the medical treatment for her outside Yemen – even if it could save her life.

“He won’t be able to do it,” Walid said of the long, random road. “Traveling to Aden could kill him.”

Instead, they pinned their hopes on the possibility of the airport reopening one day.

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Yemen has for years been divided between an internationally recognized government that controls much of the country’s south and is backed by Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, who seized the Sanaa capital in 2015 and are backed by Iran. Seven years of civil war have killed thousands and plunged the country into one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Saudi Arabia controls the country’s airspace. Aid groups have argued that the closure of the airport on normal flights has effectively trapped poor citizens in the north of the country, which has limited access to advanced medical care.

Then, in early April – after many failed attempts at a peace deal and escalating hostilities earlier this year – the UN said it had agreed to a two-month ceasefire between the two sides that would allow some flights, among other conditions. To start work from Sana’a Airport.

However, the first flight scheduled for April 24 was canceled ahead of schedule due to fears that a truce could not be enforced – and shattered the dreams of many passengers for emergency treatment abroad.

Following new discussions, the flight was rescheduled for May 16. Passengers arrived a few hours earlier for the scheduled flight – again fearing it would not take off. He declined to speak to the Washington Post, saying he was concerned about the sensitivities surrounding the flight.

Khaled Alshaif, general manager of Sanaa Airport, said there was “great joy” in arranging the first flight, which carried more than 100 passengers to Jordan. “As you can see, the passengers are families: women and children and sick people,” he said, describing it as a “great victory” for the Houthi-controlled government. Under the terms of the agreement, he said, there are two scheduled flights per week as long as there is a ceasefire.

Officials are hoping to increase the number of flights soon, he said, describing the first flight as “a test” for others, including some coming and going from Egypt.

Washington, which has long backed Saudi airstrikes in Yemen – which human rights groups say has killed thousands of civilians – but recently distanced itself from the war and called for peace talks, has welcomed the flights as an important step toward peace. The Biden administration has promised to end the war in Yemen and has appointed its own special envoys to try to broker a resolution.

National Security Council spokesman Adrian Watson said in a statement on Monday that “Yemen is witnessing the most peaceful times since the start of the war, and these flights are an important step in improving the lives and opportunities of the Yemeni people.”

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Ahmed Alwazan, over 70, looked tired as he sat in a wheelchair for the flight. In the past he has traveled abroad to Egypt, Jordan and Germany for medical treatment. But he and his wife have not been able to travel abroad since 2011 – due to the recent closure of the airport.

“I’m suffering from my prostate, hemorrhoids, fistula and blood clotting problems,” Alvazan said. “I am just happy to hear that they have opened the airport. You see, I am unable to walk, let alone a long and tiring journey to Aden or Seine. “

Nearby, a man named Ahmed was sitting with his relatives, his brother, whose kidney was dysfunctional, waiting to board a flight to Amman. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

He was unable to travel to Aden by road due to his brother’s long illness, he said. He had originally planned a trip on April 24 – but his hopes were dashed when the flight was canceled.

This time, the flight – scheduled to arrive empty from Aden – was delayed. The family is worried, thinking it will stop again.

“Do you think there will still be flights?” Ahmed asks after a few minutes. We will not leave the airport until we hear the sound of landing.

Then, at about 8:15 a.m., the jet landed in Sana’a, spraying water cannon on the runway to welcome its much-anticipated arrival. After a while, it flew again with 126 on board.

Eventually Ahmed Bhai was on his way.

O’Grady reports from Cairo.

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