Yemen’s war sites fail to carry out 1st flight as part of the ceasefire

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SANAA, Yemen – Yemen’s warring parties failed to carry out the first commercial flight in six years from the rebel-held capital on Sunday in a battle to an already fragile ceasefire in the country’s fierce conflict.

The flight, with a destination in Amman, Jordan, had been planned as part of the UN mediation, 60-day ceasefire agreement reached by the internationally recognized government and the Houthi rebels earlier this month.

The ceasefire, which came into force on April 2, is the first nationwide ceasefire in Yemen in six years. It happened in the midst of a joint international and regional effort to find a solution to the conflict that destroyed the poorest country in the Arab world and pushed it to the brink of famine.

Yemen’s brutal civil war broke out in 2014 when Iranian-backed Houthis captured the capital Sanaa and forced the government into exile. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in early 2015 to try to restore the government to power.

The conflict has in recent years become a regional proxy war that has killed more than 150,000 people, including over 14,500 civilians. It has also created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

As part of the ceasefire, the two parties agreed to operate two commercial flights a week to and from Sanaa to Jordan and Egypt. Sanaa is blocked by the Saudi-led coalition.

But both sides failed to carry out the first flight more than three weeks since the ceasefire took effect. They have changed the blame for the failure.

The Houthis accused the Saudi-led coalition of failing to issue the necessary permits for the flight without giving further details.

Moammar al-Iryani, information minister for the internationally recognized government, said the Houthis did not comply with the agreement by giving passengers passports issued by the rebels.

He said the government allowed travel for 104 passengers on the Sanaa-Amman plane, but the Houthis insisted on adding 60 more passengers “with unreliable passports.”

The internationally recognized government announced in March 2017 that it does not recognize documents issued by the rebels.

A spokesman for the Houthis did not respond to a request for comment.

Hans Grundberg, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, called on both sides to “work constructively” with the UN to address the challenges that delayed the flight.

“The ceasefire is intended to benefit civilians, including by reducing violence, making fuel available and improving their freedom of movement to, from and within their country,” he said on Twitter. He did not elaborate.

Along with the flights, the ceasefire also included 18 vessels carrying fuel into the port of Hodeida, which is controlled by the Houthis.

The parties have also not yet met about a reopening of roads around Taiz and other provinces as part of the ceasefire. The government accused the Houthis of delaying the meeting as they did not send members of their delegation to the UN envoy’s office where the meeting was to be held.

Erin Hutchinson, Yemeni director at the Norwegian Refugee Council, said she was deeply disappointed with the cancellation of the plane at the last minute. She called on both sides to honor their ceasefire commitments, including flights and the reopening of roads in Taiz and elsewhere in Yemen.

“The first few weeks of the ceasefire have already allowed us to reach areas that were inaccessible for over three years due to the fighting,” she said.

The ceasefire has resulted in declining fighting on the ground and in the air, and the rebels have stopped their cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, another pillar of the anti-Houthi coalition.

Both sides, however, have reported almost daily violations of the ceasefire, especially around the government-held central city of Marib, which the Houthis have been trying to conquer for over a year.

Magdy reported from Cairo.

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