Inside Sanaa, a city of fear, hunger and Houthi repression

People flee Sanaa with their belongings. (File photo/Reuters)
Updated 19 December 2017
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Inside Sanaa, a city of fear, hunger and Houthi repression

JEDDAH: People in Sanaa have spoken of a “silent volcano of anger” against Houthi militias who control Yemen’s capital with a rule of terror, suppressing dissent and looting the public treasury.
The Iran-backed militias issue their diktats through “malazem,” propaganda booklets or leaflets containing the beliefs, ideologies and speeches of their leader, Abdul Malek Al-Houthi.
Stricken by fear, hunger and repression, Yemenis whisper to each other on street corners, then fall silent when a stranger passes by. “Sanaa has become a prison with more than three million inmates,” a shop assistant, 37, told the Arabic-language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.
He described a city under the absolute control of the Houthis since they murdered former President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Dec. 4. “The malazem, which the Houthis deem as a guide to governance and management through their supervisors, rule here; not the law or the constitution ... there is no mercy here.”
The man’s shop was burnt out during the violent confrontations between Saleh’s guards and the Houthis, which ended in his murder. “There is a volcano of anger against this Houthi behavior, their administration and their dispossession,” the shopkeeper says.
Around him there is debris from the smashed walls of houses, shards of broken glass, burnt-out shops, and walls pockmarked by bullets and shells. The ruins of Saleh’s houses and those of his relatives, and the headquarters of his General People’s Congress, are pitiful — but still surrounded by Houthi guards. This is the “hateful Houthi time, says Slim, 40, a civil servant.
A remote corner of Baghdad Street is like a scene from a mafia gang movie. Two people talk tensely. When you pass by, they fall silent and contemplate your features to judge whether you belong to the militia.
Greetings are exchanged, you walk on, and they resume the conversation. One says to the other: “Oh, my brother, what is the matter with you? He does not appear to be a Houthi!”
Mohammed, 25, who works in an electronics shop, deletes all the photos and messages he receives for “any reason that might lead to suspicion.” His Houthi supervisor will ask for his phone to check it for evidence of opposition to the militias or any affiliation to Saleh or the General People’s Congress. Ibrahim, 33, an education worker, prefers not to carry his phone at all when he goes out.
Once, hundreds of cars and vans displayed portraits of Saleh and his eldest son Ahmed, or flags of the General People’s Congress. They have all gone. Instead, bridges and the walls of schools and mosques carry huge billboards with Houthi slogans.
Economists told Asharq Al-Awsat the Houthis spend at least 50 billion Yemeni riyals ($200 million) a year on printing slogans and publications.
Imad lives on Taiz Street. One of his neighbors was a high-ranking former army officer who has not been involved in the conflict, and stayed at home after the invasion of Sanaa by the militias in September 2014.
“These days,” Imad says, “our neighbor no longer goes to pray in the mosque. He is said to have moved to the home of a relative, which is not known to the Houthis. Some of his neighbors are likely to leave Sanaa on the advice of a relative who works with the militias.
“The Houthi hell affects everything. No salaries for employees for the second year in a row. The huge resources they earn from taxes, customs, zakat, telecom revenues and other state institutions, as well as the royalties they impose on traders and businessmen, all go to private accounts of the group, not to the public treasury.”
It is no longer unusual to see a woman or a child searching in garbage bins for food scraps, or asking you to give something of the little you have at road junctions, near bakeries or at the entrances to the markets. Elderly men and women, and thousands of children, are starving.
Many of the cases being heard by the Sanaa courts are brought by landlords against tenants who have no money to pay their rent.
Unless, of course, you are a Houthi. Adnan, 23, says: “My Houthi neighbor has three cars and recently bought a villa in Heddah and land on the airport road. I can hardly find the cost of a water tank or gas cylinder. The Houthis looted us. God avenge them.”
The value of the Yemeni riyal against foreign currencies has collapsed, amid accusations that the Houthis are speculating on the currency and pocketing millions.
“Sanaa is no longer Sanaa,” said Samir, 27, a former soldier in the Republican Guard. Since the militia’s takeover of Sanaa, he has been selling vegetables in a market east of the capital. “The poor citizen has nothing to do,” he said.
Hassan, an employee at the Ministry of Health, says: “As you talk to the people of Sanaa, you feel that despair is oppressing their lives. But with successive field losses for the Houthi militias, most people hope the end is imminent for the darkest and most miserable pages in Yemen’s modern history.”


Turkey sends weapons to opposition fighters in Syria

Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters get a major boost as Ankara backs them with fresh supplies of weaponry to help them hold their ground. (Reuters)
Updated 26 May 2019
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Turkey sends weapons to opposition fighters in Syria

  • Ankara signals readiness to preserve its influence in Syria’s Idlib province in northwestern region

AMMAN: Turkey has equipped an array of mainstream Syrian opposition fighters it backs with fresh supplies of weaponry to help them try to repel a major Russian-backed assault, senior opposition officials and opposition sources said on Saturday.
Russia is backing the Syrian army’s large aerial and ground assault as it seeks to gain control of the last big stretch of opposition-held territory in the northwest of the country.
Syria’s Bashar Assad launched the assault last month, saying fighters had breached an existing cease-fire, triggering a civilian exodus by bombarding Idlib and adjacent areas. It has been the biggest escalation since last summer between Assad and the opposition fighters in Idlib province and a belt of territory around it.
Ankara stepped up supplies in recent days after failing to persuade Russia in recent meetings of a joint working group that it should end its escalation to avert a major influx of refugees pouring into Turkey, two senior opposition figures said.

FASTFACT

Ankara stepped up supplies in recent days after failing to persuade Russia in recent meetings of a joint working group that it should end its escalation to avert a major influx of refugees pouring into Turkey.

In doing so Turkey signaled its readiness to preserve its influence in northwestern Syria, where it has beefed up its troop presence in a dozen military bases that were set up under a de-escalation deal with Russia, a senior opposition commander said. Turkish officials were not immediately available for comment.
Overnight, a Turkish military convoy arrived in a base in northern Hama near opposition-held Jabal Al-Zawiya, where Russian and Syrian jets have been pounding for weeks, a fighter and a witness said.
The delivery of dozens of armored vehicles, Grad rocket launchers, anti-tank guided missiles helped roll back some army gains and retake the strategically located town of Kfar Nabouda.