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Yemen: Sanaa airport 'damaged and unsafe' following Saudi-led coalition bombing

Source says tarmac and several buildings, including the customs department, hit in raid on Monday
An airport worker holds what is reportedly the remains of a missile inside a damaged building at Sanaa airport on 21 December (AFP)

Sanaa’s airport is damaged after being bombed by the Saudi-led coalition and needs urgent repair before it can receive flights again, a Yemeni aviation worker has warned.

On Monday, the coalition fighting the Houthi movement on behalf of Yemen’s internationally recognized government hit “legitimate military targets” in Sanaa airport with airstrikes.

The Yemeni capital and its airport are controlled by the Houthis.

The strikes came after ordering all civilians and humanitarian workers to evacuate. However, Sanaa’s civil aviation authority had already closed the airport on Sunday in protest at the coalition, which maintains a siege on Yemen, refusing to allow “essential” equipment into the facility.

'The airstrikes targeted the tarmac and several buildings in the airport including the customs department, and a fire broke out'

- Source in the Sanaa civil aviation authority

“We said that we need equipment, but the [coalition] started to bomb it instead of sending the required equipment,” a source in the civil aviation authority told Middle East Eye, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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“The airstrikes targeted the tarmac and several buildings in the airport including the customs department, and a fire broke out.”

The source said that the airstrikes have made airport workers feel they are not safe in the facility any longer, and it cannot operate flights while it remains a target.

“The [coalition] is imposing a siege on Yemen and they don’t care about Yemenis and their interests.”

Limited flights

Sanaa’s airport has been closed to commercial traffic since 2016 but remains a lifeline for Yemenis.

More than half of Yemenis are reliant on some form of humanitarian aid, some of which enters the country through Sanaa airport.

On Tuesday, aid workers called for the airport to reopen so supplies can resume.

"It is vitally important that the airport is re-opened as quickly as possible, and that the two sides commit to keeping the airport out of the conflict in the future,” Ahmed Mahat, Medecins Sans Frontieres' head of mission in Yemen, told MEE.

A limited number of flights also take out Yemenis who need urgent treatment abroad.

Ali*, the brother of one of those patients, said it was frustrating seeing the UN and NGOs use the airport before the closure as he struggled to secure passage for his brother.

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“The United Nations can use the airport freely, but we can’t take our patients abroad. That isn’t justice,” he told MEE.

“The UN should put pressure on the Saudis to allow flights to land and take off Sanaa airport with patients.”

The Saudi-led coalition justified Monday’s airstrikes by saying the airport had been used to stage attacks on Saudi soil. Riyadh said it destroyed an attack drone on Sunday sent from Sanaa airport on Sunday aimed at civilians at the airport in Jizan, in the kingdom’s south.

Yet in Yemen, rumours are swirling about the standoff between Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Houthis over Hasan Irlu, the Iranian ambassador in Sanaa who recently died of Covid.

Iran had asked Saudi Arabia to allow Irlu to be flown out of Sanaa to receive urgent medical care.

Though he was eventually allowed to leave for Iraq, on Tuesday Iran said Irlu had died and appeared to blame Riyadh for delaying his treatment.

"We had to try for a few days to get permission to send a plane from Iran or another country to take him quickly to a well-equipped hospital in Iran, but unfortunately the Saudi side decided too late and some Saudi bodies procrastinated," Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said.

Like other Yemenis, Ali suspects the anger behind Irlu’s death is adding fuel to the flames regarding the airport closure.

“I hear rumors that the Houthis are angry that Irlu couldn’t go abroad for treatment, and I agree with them as the UN can use the airport freely and patients can’t,” he said.

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