Jamal al-Jabiri and Fawaz al-Haidari in Taez, AFP
Last updated: 13 May, 2015

Yemenis hope for lasting peace as truce begins

Yemenis ventured out on to the streets of the capital Wednesday on the first day of a temporary ceasefire that brought some respite after seven weeks of Saudi-led air raids.

“People are tired. They just want a bit of tranquility and to find something to eat,” said Ibrahim al-Saidali, who lives in Sanaa, where life slowly returned to neighbourhoods that have been mostly deserted since strikes began.

Cars crowded some of the capital’s roads despite a severe shortage in petrol triggered by a total sea and air blockade in place since the Saudi-led coalition began bombing raids aimed at restoring UN-backed President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

Since late March, life in Sanaa has been dominated by daily bombardment by coalition warplanes pounding positions held by Shiite Huthi rebels and troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

But Sanaa’s skies went quiet Tuesday night as a Saudi-proposed five-day humanitarian truce entered into effect.

“Friendly countries should now provide us with petrol and supplies,” said Saidali, 32.

Resident Abu Hisham meanwhile prayed to God for “a lasting truce and a return of electricity and water.”

The blockade has seen petrol stations close in the capital and elsewhere, forcing motorists to wait in long lines to fill jerrycans from private supplies for astronomical prices.

On Wednesday, shops near rebel positions and military bases opened for business after a long break.

“We are back in business” exclaimed Walid al-Alkami, a 32-year-old clothes salesman. “Large numbers of women and families have come to the shop to buy clothes.”

Street vendors also returned, displaying their merchandise on pavements.

“This the first time in a long time that I dare venture out with my family,” said Saddam al-Waili.

Many construction workers were back on building sites as people began repairing their damaged homes and businesses.

While the bombing raids have halted, bursts of automatic weapons fire could still be heard Wednesday, as Huthi rebels discharged their guns during the funerals of militants killed in the violence.

– Fear in Aden –

In the southern city of Aden, fighting that has raged for weeks subsided, but residents remained fearful of renewed clashes between rebels and local Hadi loyalists.

“We cannot talk about a truce when Huthi gunmen remain positioned on the roofs,” said resident Fawaz al-Hanshi.

The Huthis and pro-Saleh forces, who overran Sanaa unopposed in September, advanced in late March on Aden, where Hadi had taken refuge before fleeing to Saudi Arabia.

Local fighters took up arms to fight alongside troops loyal to the president as several neighbourhoods transformed into battlefields.

“They (the Huthis) are there on top of the buildings. Nothing has changed, although coalition warplanes have disappeared,” Hanshi said.

Saudi-led fighter jets have pounded rebel positions in Aden, and earlier this month the coalition said it had sent a “limited” ground force into the city.

Mohammed al-Muazzai managed to return home after being stuck in nearby Lahj province for three weeks due to the fighting.

“There is not a real ceasefire,” he said. “In every area we passed through, we heard gun shots.”

In Dar Saad, at the northern entrance to Aden, “we saw families run away” in order to escape clashes, Muazzai added.

In the third city of Taez, sporadic gunfire could still be heard Wednesday in areas that were the scene of weeks of fighting between rebels and Hadi loyalists.