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Yemen takes step to allow flights from rebel-held capital: official

The airport in Yemen's rebel-held capital has remained closed since August 2016. ©AFP

Aden (AFP) - Yemen's government will permit citizens living in areas controlled by Huthi rebels to travel on Huthi-issued passports, an official told AFP, removing a barrier to long-awaited commercial flights out of the capital Sanaa.

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 (Huthis) the opportunity to travel through Sanaa airport, with passports issued by Huthi-controlled areas," the Yemeni official said.

The government is "not responsible for any data contained" in the Huthi-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 (Huthis') docs on an interim basis & only during the #truce".

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

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

The Huthis seized control of Sanaa 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 Sanaa 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 Sanaa 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 rebels, a charge the Islamic republic denies.

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Dive Deeper:
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The UN envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, has succeeded in overcoming the obstacle of Houthi travel documents, which prevented the…
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United Nations World Food Program Representative in Yemen Richard Ragan confirmed that the recent UN-sponsored truce in Yemen had brought…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
First commercial flight in 6 years leaves Yemen’s capital Sanaa
Flight is part of UN-brokered 60-day truce between internationally-recognised government and Houthi rebels.
Grundberg in Aden to Consolidate Yemen Truce amid Mounting Houthi Violations
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Get all your news in one place