Yemen crisis: Locals welcome resumption of airstrikes on Taiz to rid city of Houthi rebels

'The people here don’t want the bombing campaign to stop until [deposed President Ali Abdullah] Saleh and the Houthi rebels give up their coup'

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The Independent Online

Yemen’s shaky five-day ceasefire this month was a brief respite from a relentless Saudi-led bombing campaign, and a vital lifeline to receive food and medical aid. But in the southern city of Taiz, where Houthi rebels seized power in March, many residents welcomed its end.

“The people here don’t want the bombing campaign to stop until [deposed President Ali Abdullah] Saleh and the Houthi rebels give up their coup,” said Abdulkader Alguneid, a physician and activist.

That seems a distant prospect. Earlier last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said peace talks were postponed indefinitely, following a request from the Yemeni government. On 31 May the Houthis extended their control over the south, taking the strategic city of Saeed. Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition’s warplanes continue their airstrikes across the country.

Taiz was at the heart of the 2011 revolution that toppled Mr Saleh, whose forces now fight on the same side as the Houthis. The country’s third largest city prides itself on professionals, traders, academics and writers. “But the arrival of the Houthi militias in March forced the Taizis to drop their pens and take up arms to defend their land,” said Osama Al Hugairi, a 24-year-old IT student at Taiz University. Residents have fled to safer areas, or boarded boats in the hopes of reaching Djibouti.

Locals in Taiz met the takeover of their city in March by the Houthis, a tribe that follows the Shia offshoot Zaidi religion and hails from the northern highlands, with peaceful protests.

There is no doubt the people of Taiz – like all Yemenis – are suffering from the airstrikes. As the conflict entered its 10th week, the World Health Organisation said last Wednesday that nearly 2,000 have been killed and 8,000 injured in the violence across the country.

Already the poorest country in the Middle East, Yemen is facing a humanitarian catastrophe, say aid officials. In Taiz, residents who already struggled for basic resources such as fuel or water before the war are scrambling to stay alive.

But while not all Taiz residents are keen on the airstrikes, locals say those opposed remain a minority.

“Airstrikes are killing our country. But what can we do to get rid of the rebels? This is the only solution to stop them. I hope we can come back to a negotiation,” said Faisal Farah, the manager of the Al Said Library in Taiz.

Despite the irreversible destruction to the city, “we love the airstrikes”, Mr Alguneid said, adding that he hoped they would bring an end to Houthis’ monopoly on power and armed expansion.

According to the UN, relief workers dispatched enough food aid to cover the needs of more than 273,000 people for a month during the ceasefire last week. But local residents accuse the Houthis of hijacking the aid. They also say the rebels target residential areas. 

“During the truce, we had neither water nor fuel. We had nothing. My city is being deserted by the minute,” said Mr Alguneid.

“It’s a bloody massacre happening in front of us,” Mr Al Hugairi said. “We, the people of Taiz will never give up. Inshallah [God willing], they will lose.”