"In Yemen, death surrounds you"


Life is difficult under the rain of Saudi bombs

IN THE burns ward of the Republican Hospital in Sana’a, Jameela Abdul Hamad sits with her head in her hands. She and her family fled from Taiz, 200km (120 miles) south of Sana’a, a few weeks ago to escape indiscriminate shelling by the Houthi militia who have taken over much of the north of the country. But on September 22nd the family was struck by four rockets while taking refuge in a school on the outskirts of the capital. The rockets were fired by a coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, that is trying to drive the Houthis out.
The doctor treating Mrs Hamad says her husband and three children were killed instantly. The same week, 80 patients were brought in from Taiz, whose own hospitals have been destroyed in the war. As the war intensifies, civilian deaths such as these are increasingly common across the country. They are the human cost of the battle to control Yemen
In Sana’a civilian life has disintegrated. People sleep and wake up to the sound of air raids. Nizam Nasher, a professor at the University of Science and Technology, says “death surrounds you, if not in your home, in the mosque or market”. Recently two weddings were bombed in the towns of Mokha and Dhamar, killing roughly 160 people. The Saudi-led coalition denied responsibility for the attacks.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that as of October 4th a total of 5,462 people have been killed and 26,447 injured since the fighting flared up in March. But the UN warns that these numbers are a gross underestimate.
Locals think life is returning to medieval ways, as jobs are few and much of the day time is spent stocking up on fuel, food, water and firewood. There is a shortage of cooking gas. Sana’a has electricity for just one hour every five days. Yemenis with money are buying solar panels, but they can cost thousands of dollars.
At one petrol station in the Haddah district of Sana’a, vehicle owners wait for days to buy fuel in queues that stretch for a kilometre or more. One of them, Abdul al-Harazi, who has been camping in his car for two weeks, says he has no idea how long the wait will go on. “We network, chew qat, there’s air strikes,” he jokes. Those without the patience, buy fuel on the black market at six times the official price. As a result of the high cost of travel, some residents like Mohammed Shohaibi, a receptionist at the Royal Crown Hotel, abandoned Eid celebrations with their families and stayed in Sana’a. Travelling is dangerous anyway.
At the Republican Palace in Sana’a, Muhammad Ali al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthi rebels, resplendent in a cobalt jacket and carrying a jambiya, or Yemeni sword, is calm as Saudi jets pound the capital. He blames Saudi blockades and bombing of ports, markets and warehouses for soaring prices and the misery that brings. “This is a war crime,” says Mr Houthi, denouncing America for aiding the coalition and meddling in Yemen’s affairs. The UN has come up with a peace plan, but so far only the Houthis have accepted it. The coalition has remained silent and Mr Houthi, the rebel leader, says he will reconsider his acceptance if the coalition does not agree. “We sacrificed our commander, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi [who was killed by Yemeni forces in 2004 and gave his name to the movement], and many young people. We have nothing to lose now,” Mr Houthi says.
Asked about Iran’s support for his rebels, alleged by the coalition as part of the justification for their intervention, Mr Houthi is unambiguous, “If I had Iranian arms I would be in Riyadh now. We are Yemenis. If Saudi Arabia has a problem with Iran, go fight Iran. Don’t destroy Yemen,” he says. Back at the Republican Hospital, Mrs Hamad’s brother, Ali Abdul Hamad, says: “Saudi Arabia said they are protecting us, but they are killing us.” Meanwhile, the bombing goes on.

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