sanaa airport-1652430355918
People at the departures lounge at Sana'a airport in Yemen on April 24, 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS

Aden: Yemen’s government will permit citizens living in areas controlled by Al Houthi militia to travel on Al Houthi-issued passports, an official told AFP, removing a barrier to long-awaited commercial flights out of the capital Sana’a.

The flights are one component of a renewable two-month truce that went into effect in early April, but they have been delayed as warring factions squabbled over which documents passengers should use.

The government has agreed “during the armistice period to allow the Yemeni people who were held hostage to the (Houthis) the opportunity to travel through Sana’a airport, with passports issued by Houthi-controlled areas,” the Yemeni official said.

The government is “not responsible for any data contained” in the Houthi-issued documents, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity since they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Yemen’s embassy in Washington said on Twitter that Yemeni authorities had accepted “a UN proposal to use (Houthis’) docs on an interim basis & only during the #truce”.

There was no immediate word on Friday on when the first flight would take place, though the transport minister in Sana’a said the airport was ready.

A brutal seven-year conflict pitting Yemen’s Saudi-backed government against the Iran-aligned Houthi militia has killed hundreds of thousands of people and left millions on the brink of famine.

The Houthis seized control of Sana’a in 2014, prompting a Saudi-led military intervention to support the government the following year, and igniting a war that has caused what the United Nations terms the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The airport in Sana’a has been closed to commercial traffic since August 2016 when air strikes disrupted service to the city.

‘Encouraging’ move

The inaugural flight under the truce was planned for April 24 from Sana’a to Jordan’s capital Amman but had to be scrapped after national carrier Yemenia said it did not receive the necessary permits.

Each side blamed the other for the holdup, which drew a statement of concern from UN special envoy Hans Grundberg, who called for a quick resolution to the impasse.

The Norwegian Refugee Council aid group said at the time the inability to operate commercial flights out of Sanaa had stranded “tens of thousands of medical patients” seeking treatment abroad.

“It is encouraging to see the parties finding solutions to resume the flights from Sanaa airport,” the NRC’s Yemen country director, Erin Hutchinson, said on Friday.

“Let’s hope that this will actually lead to regular commercial flights and more, like the opening of roads in Taez and other governorates,” Hutchinson added, referring to a Yemeni city subject to a years-long siege.

Earlier this week the NRC said the number of civilian casualties in Yemen had dropped by over 50 percent since the truce took effect, and called for it to be renewed.

The Saudi-led coalition has enforced an air and sea blockade on Yemen since 2016, with exemptions for aid flights.

The alliance accuses Iran of smuggling weapons to the militia, a charge Tehran denies.