Sanaa, Yemen –
The first commercial flight in six years took off from Yemen’s rebel-held capital on Monday, officials said, as part of a fragile truce in the country’s bitter civil war.
The flight by national carrier Yemenia – also known as Yemen Airways – was bound for the Jordanian capital Amman, according to media run by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. It had 151 passengers on board.
Earlier, the plane had arrived in Sanaa from the southern port city of Aden to pick up passengers. Upon touchdown, he was greeted with a ceremonial “water salute”, according to a video uploaded by the national carrier. The Houthi media office said a return flight, with 60 passengers on board, was expected in Sanaa from Amman later on Monday.
For Wednesday, Yemen Airways announced another flight from Sanaa to Amman and a return to the Yemeni capital.
The flight is part of the UN-brokered 60-day truce agreement that the internationally recognized government and Houthi rebels reached last month. The truce, which came into effect on April 2, is Yemen’s first nationwide ceasefire in six years.
The truce agreement provides for two commercial flights a week to and from Sanaa to Jordan and Egypt. Houthi-held Sanaa is blocked by the Saudi-led coalition, which supports the internationally recognized government.
The closure of the airport caused major economic and humanitarian damage – thousands of people lost their jobs as businesses providing services closed or suffered heavy losses.
Prior to the blockade, Sanaa airport handled around 6,000 passengers a day, and more than 2 million passengers annually, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, an international charity working in Yemen.
The UN envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, hailed what he called “constructive cooperation” from the Yemeni government.
“It should be a time to come together to do more, to start fixing what the war has broken,” he said in a statement. He urged both sides to implement all truce commitments and “move towards the resumption of a political process to bring a lasting end to the conflict”.
The flight was originally scheduled to take off on April 2, but a dispute over passports issued by the Houthis had delayed the departure date. This time, the internationally recognized government allowed passengers with Houthi-issued documents to board the flight.
The state-run SABA news agency said last week that new Yemeni passports would be issued in Jordan for those arriving with Houthi-issued travel documents.
Erin Hutchinson, Yemeni director of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said the takeoff of the first flight was a “stepping stone to lasting peace for Yemen”.
“The long-awaited reopening of the airport was one of the main objectives of the truce,” she said, urging the warring parties to work on implementing other elements of the agreement, including the reopening of roads around Taiz and other provinces.
Taiz, which remains partially held by forces fighting on behalf of the government, has been blocked by the Houthis since 2016.
The UN envoy met with the government delegation last month to prepare meetings on reopening roads in Taiz and other provinces. The Houthis have yet to name their delegation to the meeting to reopen the road, raising concerns about their commitment to lifting the blockade.
A Houthi spokesperson did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The truce also included allowing 18 ships carrying fuel into the Houthi-controlled Red Sea port of Hodeidah over a two-month period.
The ceasefire came amid concerted international and regional efforts to find a settlement to the conflict that has devastated the Arab world’s poorest country and pushed it to the brink of famine.
Yemen’s civil war erupted in 2014, when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and forced the government into exile. The Saudi-led coalition went to war in early 2015 in an attempt to restore the government to power.
Despite daily violations reported by both sides, major ground and air clashes have died down and the rebels have ceased their cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, another mainstay of the anti-Houthi coalition.
Magdy brought back from Cairo
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