SANAA: The first commercial flight in nearly six years took off from Yemen’s rebel-held capital Monday, a major step forward in a peace process that has provided rare relief from conflict.
The Yemenia plane carrying 126 passengers, including hospital patients needing treatment abroad and their relatives, took off from Sanaa for the Jordanian capital Amman just after 9:00 am (0600 GMT).
Before take-off, the plane with red-and-blue tail livery taxied through an honour guard of two fire trucks spraying jets of water. It landed in Amman before 0900 GMT.
Sanaa’s airport has been closed to commercial traffic since August 2016 because of air strikes by the Saudi-led military coalition, who are fighting Iran-backed Huthi rebels.
“I’m so happy with the opening of Sanaa airport,” said Lutfiyah, a wheelchair-bound passenger who did not want to give her full name. “Today is a day of celebration, and I hope that it remains open.”
Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, has been wracked with war since the coalition stepped in to support the government in 2015, a year after the Huthis seized control of the capital.
According to UN figures, more than 150,000 people have died in the violence and millions have been displaced, creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
But a truce has been in place since April 2, coinciding with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Five days after it took effect, Yemen’s Saudi-based president handed his powers to a leadership council tasked with holding peace talks with the rebels.
Resuming flights from Sanaa, working to reopen roads to the rebel-besieged city of Taez and allowing fuel tankers into the Huthi-held port of Hodeida — a lifeline for Yemen — were all part of the truce agreement.
UN special envoy Hans Grundberg called Monday’s flight an “important and long-awaited step”. The agreement provides for two return flights to Amman and Cairo.
“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 said in a statement.
While fuel tankers have docked in Hodeida and flights have now resumed from Sanaa, the main routes into Taez remain cut off.
The United States also welcomed the flight, with National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson thanking Saudi Arabia “for its leadership in helping to overcome obstacles”.
“Yemen today is witnessing its calmest period since the war began, and these flights are an important step in further improving the lives and opportunities for the Yemeni people,” Watson said.
Erin Hutchinson, Yemen country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council aid agency, called the flight “a stepping stone towards a lasting peace for Yemen”.