Op-Ed: Medical flights begin from Houthi-controlled Sanaa in Yemen

Posted Feb 4, 2020 by Ken Hanly
On Monday flights from the Houthi-controlled Yemeni capital of Sanaa began carrying patients needing urgent medical care to Amman Jordan. This is a welcome step said the World Health Organization (WHO).
Shiite Huthi militia patrol the Sanaa International Airport in Sanaa  on March 28  2015
Shiite Huthi militia patrol the Sanaa International Airport in Sanaa, on March 28, 2015
Mohammed Huwais, AFP
Move will be a long-sought confidence-building step
These flights took two years to negotiate said Lise Grande at the Sanaa airport. Grande said: “There are thousands of patients who need this care. This is the first flight, there will be more” Grande noted that the real solution to the medical problems of Yemen was to end the war. The airport has been closed to civilian flights from 2015 when Saudi Arabia and its allies took control of Yemen's airspace. However, last November the Saudis said that those needing medical care could be flown out of Sanaa.
The flights are being supervised by the UN and the WHO. The flights will first go to Amman in Georgia and then on to Cairo in Egypt. Most of the patients are women and children suffering from cancer or brain tumors. There are also patients needing organ transplants or reconstructive surgery.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said it hoped that the flights would open an regular medical bridge for sick patients. The Council said there was no justification for punishing very sick civilians by blocking them from traveling to access medical treatment.
Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, who heads the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, claimed 32,000 people are registered on medical evacuation lists.
Even since the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels ousted the government of Mansur Hadi from the capital and much of the country in late 2014 the country has been mired in a civil war. A Saudi coalition intervened in 2015 in an attempt to restore the Hadi government. Even though the Houthis are in control on the ground in the capital Sanaa they do not control the airspace which the Saudi coalition closed to civilian aircraft after 2015. However, UN planes have been allowed to land there.
Opening the airport again has been a key demand at UN-led peace talks and of the Houthis as well. UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths claimed in an address last month to the UN Security Council in January that the medical flight project had received a great deal of diplomatic support . According to authorities Griffiths held last minute talks with Houthi authorities last Sunday with respect the plans for the flights. About 60 patients and their relatives are expected to leave on flights this week.
The UN has been attempting to try to relaunch negotiations to end the war. There are also separate informal talks between the Houthis and Saudis in Riyadh since September last year about de-escalation. There are signs that the Saudis would like to abandon its attempt to reinstall the Hadi government to allow it to come to an agreement with the Houthis and extricate themselves from a costly war that they seem unable to win.