Middle East

Yemenis baffled by halt to airstrikes

A Yemeni youth carries bags of bread as people queue outside a bakery in the city of Taez, on April 22, 2015. AFP/ABDEL-RAHMAN ABDALLAH

SANAA: Yemenis have been taken by surprise by a Saudi-led coalition’s decision to end its air campaign against rebels, but they fear the crisis in their country is far from over.

Saudi-led warplanes pounded positions of the Houthi rebels and their allies for four weeks, after the insurgents advanced on the southern city of Aden where embattled President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi had taken refuge.

But in the same way that they never expected the intervention, the abrupt end to the operation also caught people unawares in the capital Sanaa.

The coalition said Tuesday that the campaign was successful and had achieved its goals. But its airstrikes resumed Wednesday, targeting rebel positions in various places.

“The coalition should have imposed its conditions on the Houthis and at least forced them to withdraw from cities they have occupied,” said 32-year-old Sanaa resident Asim Sabri.

For a week, Sanaa has been without electricity or water, while food supplies have dwindled and a fuel shortage has seen a drop in activity.

But the Houthis and troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh still control of most of the territories they overran since September last year, including the capital.

The windows of Sabri’s home were shattered two days ago when scores of houses were either flattened or damaged in explosions triggered by coalition strikes on a missile base south of Sanaa.

The blasts killed 38 civilians and wounded more than 500 others.

But Sabri said he was worried that the end of Operation Decisive Storm would give rebels some “respite to reorganize their ranks.”

Other residents of the capital expressed hopes that the cessation would spare the lives of Yemenis.

“We are tired and stunned by the lists of victims that keep growing,” said Ahmed Amin. “I call on all parties to show mercy ... and engage in a serious dialogue” to end the political impasse.

“The air campaign clearly became unable to continue due to the civilian losses that it caused,” Isa Sultan said.

But Riyadh’s announcement it was halting the operation stunned Sultan, who lives in Yemen’s third city Taiz, where clashes ensued Wednesday between rebels and Hadi loyalists.

“The best achievement of the air campaign is its destruction of the arsenals of the army, which has become a force loyal to one family instead of the whole people,” Sultan said, referring to the family of former president Saleh.

“Foreign interventions” should end, however, according to Reziga Ahmed, another resident of Sanaa.

“The Houthis are helped by Iran while President Hadi is supported by Saudi Arabia, all while pretending to reject foreign meddling,” she said.

“We suffer from the Houthis as much as from the Saudi operation,” said Mohammad Nasr, who lives in the southern port city of Aden where intensive clashes continue.

“We have lost our jobs and homes, while life has become impossible,” said the 43-year-old man.

“Saudi Arabia has achieved its targets,” but “the Yemenis will continue to kill each other,” lamented Abdel-Rahman Anis.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 24, 2015, on page 10.

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