First UN medical flight takes Yemeni patients out of Sanaa airport

Patients, with chronic diseases which cannot be treated inside Yemen, will be airlifted by the UN chartered flights from Sanaa airport to hospitals in Cairo and Amman. (File/AFP)
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Updated 03 February 2020

First UN medical flight takes Yemeni patients out of Sanaa airport

  • Patients were airlifted by UN chartered flights from Sanaa airport to hospitals in Jordan
  • These mercy flights come as part of humanitarian relief efforts

The first United Nations medical flight from Yemen left the Houthi-held capital of Sanaa on Monday, with seven patients and their families bound for Jordan where they will receive treatment.

“There will be patients who are suffering from conditions and diseases that can't be treated here in Yemen. They will be taken to Jordan,” UN resident coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande told reporters.

Flights to airlift patients from the Houthi-held Sanaa airport for treatment abroad began on Monday at 4:30 p.m. local time after weeks of discussions, diplomatic sources close to the matter told Arab News.

The UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths arrived in the capital on Sunday to facilitate the humanitarian “medical air bridge”, Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported.

Patients will be airlifted by World Health Organization (WHO) chartered flights, in cooperation with the Saudi-led Arab coalition, from Sanaa airport and taken to hospitals in Cairo and Amman.

These mercy flights come as part of “humanitarian relief efforts, and in support of the brethren Yemeni people to alleviate suffering” of patients with difficult illnesses, coalition spokesperson Colonel Turki Al-Maliki said last week.

“This humane step aims to alleviate suffering of citizens who cannot afford the hardship of travel by land to the Republic’s other ports, after the Houthis refused the government’s repeated initiative to operate Sanaa airport for domestic flights,” Yemen’s foreign ministry said in a release carried by the Riyadh-based Saba.

The Houthi-appointed medical bridge committee, Mutahar Derweesh, said that WHO had initially agreed to transport 30 patients in the first flight out of the 32,000 people that were registered on the medical evacuation lists. However, a statement released on Sunday by the Houthis stated that the number of patients that would be transported was decreased to seven. 

“I think it’s an important step, especially that it has been in discussion for a while now. I just hope it will not be abused by the Houthis,” Baraa Shiban, consultant to the Yemeni embassy in London told Arab News.

Shiban said that although this showed hope for future progress in resolving the conflict, he remained skeptical.

“I hardly see an end in sight, especially with the latest escalation,” he said.

Last week saw a drastic escalation in fighting between the warring sides in Yemen, killing and wounding hundreds of people.

The sudden spike in violence across long-stalemated front lines threatened to exacerbate the five-year conflict and complicate indirect peace talks.

Ibrahim Jalal, a Yemeni non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, also praised the decision as an “important humanitarian step to alleviate the suffering of Yemeni civilians.”

“The UN, in cooperation with humanitarian organisations and relevant stakeholders, should seek to increase the frequency of flights and seats allocated to meet basic medical demands,” he said.

There has been a blockade in place on commercial navigation to and from Sanaa airport since early August 2016, allowing only for UN and humanitarian groups’ flights.

The only commercially operated airports in Yemen are in the south in the interim-capital Aden and Seyoun in Hadramout, where the airports provide limited flights abroad.

“This reactivation is a step in the right direction and, if utilised well, could be one of the significant confidences building measures before the resumption of comprehensive peace talks,” Jalal said.

Last month, the UN envoy resumed a new round of regional talks to revive stalled peace talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthi militias. He discussed confidence-building measures to implement the Stockholm Agreement, signed in December 2018.  


First direct commercial flight from Israel lands in Bahrain

Updated 14 min 43 sec ago

First direct commercial flight from Israel lands in Bahrain

  • Flight data showed an Israir Airlines Airbus A320 landed at Bahrain International Airport after a nearly three-hour flight from Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion
  • The flight was made without ceremony, in sharp contrast to the first El Al flight from Israel to the United Arab Emirates at the end of August

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: The first known direct commercial flight between Israel and Bahrain landed Wednesday in the island kingdom, just a week after it signed a deal alongside the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations.
Flight data showed an Israir Airlines Airbus A320 landed at Bahrain International Airport after a nearly three-hour flight from Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport.
There was no immediate acknowledgement of the flight from the Israeli government, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday spoke by telephone to Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment.
Bahrain’s state-run media did not immediately acknowledge the flight. Officials on the island off the coast of Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The US Embassy in Manama similarly did not respond to a request for comment.
The flight was made without ceremony, in sharp contrast to the first El Al flight from Israel to the United Arab Emirates at the end of August. That plane carried US and Israeli officials, including President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as media.
The flight Wednesday comes as Israel has gone back into a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic. In Bahrain, civil society groups have criticized the move to normalize relations with Israel, saying that recognition should come only after Palestinians obtain their own independent state.
Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and a British naval base.
Bahrain and the UAE signed normalization agreements Sept. 15 with Israel at the White House, part of a US diplomatic push as Trump seeks re-election.
The UAE and Israel have moved quickly to explore commercial ties after their normalization deal, bringing to light a relationship previously kept quiet.
Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa previously had been quoted as saying he believed Arab countries should drop their boycott of Israel.