Yemen’s state-run airline suspends only route out of Sanaa over Houthi restrictions on its funds

AP , Sunday 1 Oct 2023

Yemen’s state-run carrier has suspended the only air route out of the country's rebel-held capital to protest Houthi restrictions on its funds, officials said Sunday.

Huthi-affiliated security forces stand guard during a ceremony marking the birth anniversary of Islam s Prophet Mohammad, in Sanaa on September 27, 2023.AFP


Yemen Airways canceled its commercial flights from Sanaa's international airport to the Jordanian capital of Amman. The airline had been operating six commercial and humanitarian flights a week between Sanaa and Amman as of the end of September.

The Sanaa-Amman air route was reintroduced last year as part of a U.N.-brokered cease-fire between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government. The cease-fire agreement expired in October 2022, but the warring factions refrained from taking measures that would lead to a flare-up of all-out fighting.

Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and forced the government into exile. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in early 2015 to try restore the government to power.

The airline blamed the Iranian-backed Houthis for the move because they were withholding $80 million in the company's funds in Houthi-controlled banks in Sanaa. It said in a statement on Saturday that the rebels rejected a proposal to release 70% of the funds. The statement said the airline’s sales in Sanaa exceed 70% of its revenues.

The statement said the Houthi ban on the funds was linked to “illegal and unreasonable demands and caused severe damage to the airline's activities."

The Houthi-controlled Saba news agency quoted an unnamed source condemning the airline’s move. The source was quoted as saying that the rebels offered to release 60% of the airline’s funds in Sanaa.

The fighting in Yemen became a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, causing widespread hunger and misery. Even before the conflict, Yemen had been the Arab world’s poorest country. The war has killed more than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.

The dispute between the Houthis and the national airline comes as the rebels and Saudi Arabia have appeared close to a peace agreement in recent months. Saudi Arabia received a Houthi delegation last month for peace talks, saying the negotiations had “positive results.”

The Saudi-Houthi efforts, however, were overshadowed by an attack blamed on the Houthis last week that killed four Bahraini troops who were part of a coalition force patrolling Saudi Arabia’s southern border.

The Houthis, meanwhile, barred four activists from the Mwatana for Human Rights group from boarding their flight at Sanaa airport on Saturday “without providing legal justification,” group said.

It said that Houthi officials interrogated Mwatana’s chairperson Radhya al-Mutawakel, her deputy, and three other members before telling them that they were barred from travel according to “higher orders.”

A spokesman for the rebels was not immediately available for comment.

Mwatana said the ban was “just one episode in a long series of violations” by the rebels at the Sanaa airport on land routes linking rebel-held areas with other parts of Yemen.

The rebels also rounded up dozens of people who took to the streets last month in the Houthi-held areas, including Sanaa, to commemorate the anniversary of Yemen's Sep. 26 revolution, which marks the establishment of Yemen’s republic in 1962, Amnesty International said.

“It is outrageous that demonstrators commemorating a national historical moment found themselves attacked, arrested, and facing charges simply because they were waving flags,” Amnesty said, and called on Houthis to immediately release those detained.

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