SANAA (Reuters) -Yemen’s national airline operated on Monday its first commercial flight from the capital Sanaa since 2016, raising hopes a U.N.-brokered truce could be a stepping stone towards a lasting peace that could improve the lives of desperate Yemenis.
Dozens of Yemenis, including patients who waited years for medical treatment, went through security checks in the airport’s terminal which has been deserted since 2015, excited and relieved at the prospect of being able to travel.
“We have waited for this trip for three years. Because of my father’s health condition, we couldn’t take him by land to Aden. Praise be God, the relief has come,” said Ismail al-Wazan before boarding a flight to Amman with his father in a wheelchair.
As the first Yemenia flight landed empty in Sanaa from Aden, where the carrier has been operating relatively normally, water cannon sprayed the runway to celebrate the milestone. The flight then carried on to the Jordanian capital with the passengers.
The seven-year conflict has pitted a Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-aligned Houthis and put Middle East security in peril.
The coalition, which controls Yemen’s airspace and seas, intervened in the civil war in 2015 after the Houthis ousted the internationally recognised government the previous year.
The two-month truce came into effect on April 2 and has largely held but resumption of select flights agreed under the deal stalled after the Saudi-backed government insisted all passengers from Sanaa need government-issued passports.
Facing pressure from the international community, it agreed last week to allow Houthi-issued passport holders to travel outside Yemen.
The United Nations is seeking the extension of the nationwide truce, the first inclusive ceasefire in the war since 2016, to clear the way for broader negotiations to end the conflict that has killed tens of thousands and caused a humanitarian crisis.
The truce included a halt to offensive military operations, allowing fuel imports into Houthi-controlled ports, and some flights from Sanaa. The flights will facilitate separate talks on reopening of roads in the heavily disputed Taiz region.
The United Nations and United States welcomed the reopening of Sanaa airport.
“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,” Adrienne Watson, spokesperson of the White House National Security Council, said.
The Norwegian Refugee Council, which has been active in humanitarian operations in Yemen, said the first commercial flight from Sanaa was “a stepping stone” towards a lasting peace for Yemen.
The next flight from Sanaa is due next Wednesday.
(Reporting by Yemen team, additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi, Editing by Ed Osmond and Alison Williams)