Fighting breaks out as Yemeni troops push to recapture Aden

Fighting breaks out as Yemeni troops push to recapture Aden
A fighter from of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) watches as a military vehicle, belonging to Saudi-backed government forces, burns during clashes in the Sheikh Salim area in the southern Abyan province on May 11, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 12 May 2020

Fighting breaks out as Yemeni troops push to recapture Aden

Fighting breaks out as Yemeni troops push to recapture Aden
  • Separatists set up ambushes, launch rocket attacks to prevent military advance

AL-MUKALLA: Heavy fighting broke out on Monday in south Yemen as government forces launched an offensive to recapture areas controlled by the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) including the port city of Aden, local military commanders and official media said.

The attack began in the morning when government tanks and heavy weapons shelled separatists in areas outside Zinjibar town, the capital of Abyan province, to pave the way for the advance of a convoy of military vehicles.

“We launched an offensive under the command of the Ministry of Defense and our military commanders aimed at liberating Aden and other southern provinces from the militias,” a local military commander, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arab News.

As tanks departed their positions in Abyan’s Shouqra, fighting erupted when separatists set up ambushes and launched rocket-propelled grenades to prevent government forces from advancing.

The government commander admitted that their forces had faced booby traps and landmines that blew up some military equipment and injured a number of soldiers. “We are now dealing with a huge number of landmines planted by separatists that slowed down our advance. But the offensive is moving according to plan.”

Shortly after the beginning of the government offensive, the STC leader, Aidarous Al-Zubaidi, gave a speech in which he ordered his troops to defend their territories and push back the offensive. “Be ready and decisive in the face of the brutal aggression,” he said.

The council’s spokesperson, Nizar Haytham, told Arab News that its forces had repelled the offensive after destroying several military vehicles and capturing a number of soldiers.

FASTFACT

The escalation in fighting in the south is expected to worsen the humanitarian situation in Aden after the government on Monday declared a surge in the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases and other fatal diseases in the city.

“This is unjustified war on the south from the terrorist militia of the Muslim Brotherhood. Our forces managed to foil that offensive and defeated these terrorist militias,” he said.

Last month, tensions escalated between the internationally–recognized government and the STC when separatists announced a self-rule initiative, allowing them to expel the government from Aden and unilaterally rule the strategic city and collect revenues from its seaport and other important money-making government bodies.

The government swiftly described the declaration as a “coup” and demanded the council to positively respond to the international community’s condemnation of the move.

A power-sharing deal signed last year temporarily defused tension between both sides as a Saudi-led military committee withdrew heavy weapons from Aden and secured the return of the government.

The escalation in fighting in the south is expected to worsen the humanitarian situation in Aden after the government on Monday declared a surge in the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases and other fatal diseases in the city.

Chaired by Yemeni Prime Minister Dr. Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, the Aden-based national coronavirus committee declared Aden an infested city in dire need of humanitarian assistance after a field report showed COVID-19 cases had jumped to 35, including four deaths, and last month’s flash floods produced an outbreak of other diseases associated with the heavy rains.

Health officials said dozens of people had died of dengue fever, chikungunya, and other “ambiguous” illnesses over the last couple of weeks.


In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

Updated 04 December 2020

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

BAJET KANDALA CAMP, Iraq: For half a decade, Zedan suffered recurring nightmares about militants overrunning his hometown in northern Iraq. The 21-year-old Yazidi was just starting to recover when COVID-19 revived his trauma.
Zedan had lost several relatives when Daesh stormed into Sinjar, the rugged heartland of the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq’s northwest.
The militants killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.
Zedan and the surviving members of his family fled, finding refuge in the Bajet Kandala camp near the Syrian border where they still live today.
“We used to be farmers living a good life. Then IS (Daesh) came,” he said, wringing his hands.
In a pre-fabricated building hosting the camp’s mental health clinic, Zedan shared his traumas with Bayda Othman, a psychologist for international NGO Premiere Urgence. Zedan refers to the violence of 2014 vaguely as “the events.”
The UN says they may constitute something much more serious: Genocide.
“I started having nightmares every night. I would see men in black coming to kill us,” Zedan said, telling Othman that he had attempted suicide several times. He has been seeing her for years, learning how to cope with his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through breathing exercises that she taught him.
Earlier this year, his nightly panic attacks stopped. Finally, he could sleep again. But only for a few months.
In March, Iraq declared a nationwide lockdown to try to contain the spread of Covid-19. Zedan broke down.
“I fear that my family could catch the virus or give it to me,” he said. “It obsesses me.”
As lockdown dragged on, Zedan’s brother lost his job at a stationery shop on the edge of the camp.
“There’s no more money coming into the family now. Just thinking about it gives me a panic attack,” he said.
“The nightmares returned, and so did my desire to die.”
Out of Iraq’s 40 million citizens, one in four is mentally vulnerable, the World Health Organization says.
But the country is in dire shortage of mental health specialists, with only three per 1 million people.

HIGHLIGHT

The Daesh extremists killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.

Speaking about trauma or psychological problems is widely considered taboo, and patients who spoke to AFP agreed to do so on the condition that only their first names would be used.
In camps across Iraq, which still host some 200,000 people displaced by violence, the pandemic has pushed many people with psychological problems into remission, Othman said.
“We noticed a resurgence of PTSD cases, suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts,” she told AFP.
In October, there were three attempted suicides in Bajet Kandala alone by displaced people, who said their movements outside the camp were restricted by the lockdown, or whose economic situation had deteriorated even further.
A tissue factory who fired people en masse, a potato farm that shut down, a haberdashery in growing debt: Unemployment is a common thread among Othman’s patients.
“It leads to financial problems, but also a loss of self-confidence, which rekindles trauma,” she said.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), about a quarter of Iraqis who were employed prior to lockdown have been permanently laid off.
Youth were particularly hard hit: 36 percent of 18-24 years old who had been employed were dismissed, the ILO said.
A new patient in her forties walked toward the clinic, her hair covered in a sky-blue veil.
Once settled in a faux-leather chair, Jamila revealed that she, too, feels destabilized by the pandemic.
The Yazidi survivor lives in a one-room tent with her son and four daughters. But she doesn’t feel at home.
“I have totally abandoned my children. I feel all alone even though they’re always at home. I hit them during my panic attacks — I didn’t know what else to do,” she said.
Othman tried to soothe Jamila, telling her: “Hatred is the result of untreated sadness. We take it out on relatives, especially when we feel devalued — men prey on women, and women on children.”
But the trauma is not just an issue for the displaced, specialists warn.
“With the isolation and lack of access to care, children who have lived a genocide develop difficulties as they become adults,” said Lina Villa, the head of the mental health unit at a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in northern Iraq.
“We fear suicide rates will go up in the years to come.”