AL-MUKALLA: The first commercial flight since 2016 took off from the Houthi-held Sanaa International Airport in Yemen on Monday morning, further cementing the UN-brokered truce between warring factions and rekindling hopes for a peace deal in the country.
The Yemenia flight, carrying 130 passengers, left the country’s largest airport bound for the Jordanian capital Amman just days after the internationally recognized government of Yemen allowed passengers with Houthi-issued passports to travel abroad.
The flag carrier announced on Monday that a second scheduled flight from Sanaa to Amman would take off at 4pm on Wednesday.
The resumption of flights is part of the two-month truce agreed between the Yemeni government and the Houthis that came into effect on April 2.
The deal also includes allowing fuel ships to dock at Hodeidah seaport, ending hostilities across the country — mainly outside the central city of Marib — and the reopening of roads in Taiz and other areas.
Hans Grundberg, the UN’s special envoy to Yemen offered his congratulations at the resumption of air travel and thanked the Yemeni and Jordanian governments for facilitating the flight.
“I would like to congratulate all Yemenis on this important and long-awaited step,” he said.
“I hope this provides some relief to the Yemenis who need to seek medical treatment abroad, pursue education and business opportunities, or reunite with loved ones,” he added, while repeating his call for all remaining elements of the truce to be put into place, including opening roads in the besieged city of Taiz.
“Making progress toward opening roads in Taiz is key for the fulfillment of this promise,” Grundberg said. “I expect the parties to meet their obligations, including by urgently meeting to agree on opening roads on Taiz and other governorates in Yemen as per the terms of the truce agreement.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the resumption of flights and expressed his gratitude to Grundberg and countries in the region for helping to make it happen.
He also renewed US support for the truce and called for the Houthis to end their siege of Taiz.
“We urge all parties to adhere to the terms of the truce and make progress on other steps to bring relief to Yemenis – including urgently opening roads to Taiz, the third-largest city with hundreds of thousands of Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance, and other contested areas, where Yemenis have suffered for far too long.”
Western diplomats and international aid workers in Yemen also expressed their support for the resumption of flights and called for a permanent cessation of fighting.
“This is indeed good news and an important step, demonstrating to Yemenis more concrete benefits from the truce. I support the work of @OSE_Yemen,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen David Gressly said on Twitter, referring to Grundberg’s office.
Erin Hutchinson, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s country director for Yemen, called Monday’s flight a “stepping stone” to achieving a permanent deal, adding that a full resumption of flights into and out of Sanaa would save thousands of lives and bolster the country’s economy.
“Yemenis will enjoy greater freedom of movement, and it will be quicker, easier and cheaper to bring goods and aid into the country,” she said.
Meanwhile, Yemenis urged the UN mediator to push for the quick implementation of the remaining components of the truce, including lifting the siege on Taiz and reopening roads.
“Before talking about any political dialogue, all civilian facilities, roads in provinces and Yemen’s border crossings with neighboring countries must be immediately opened to end the great suffering of the Yemenis,” Fatehi bin Lazerq, the editor of the news site Aden Al-Ghad, told Arab News.