x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 November 2017

Aden airport receives first commercial flight after Yemen blockade

A Yemenia airlines flight from Cairo landed in Aden and the number of flights is set to increase over the coming days

Sanaa International Airport in the Yemeni capital, where the first commercial flight in 15 months landed on November 14, 2017. The UN verified that contrary to Houthi claims, the runway and navigation tower were not damaged by a coalition airstrike. Mohammed Huwais / AFP
Sanaa International Airport in the Yemeni capital, where the first commercial flight in 15 months landed on November 14, 2017. The UN verified that contrary to Houthi claims, the runway and navigation tower were not damaged by a coalition airstrike. Mohammed Huwais / AFP

Yemen's national airline said a commercial flight had landed at Aden international airport on Tuesday after acquiring security permits, a step that will ease a blockade on one of the poorest Arab nations.

The Saudi-led military coalition fighting Yemen's Houthi rebels last week announced it had closed all air, land and seaports in Yemen to stem what it said was the flow of arms to the Houthis from Iran. The move came after Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile fired towards Riyadh, which it blamed on Tehran.

Iran denies arming the Houthis and blames the conflict in Yemen on Riyadh.

A Yemenia airlines official said a flight took off from Cairo and landed in Aden on Tuesday before returning to the Egyptian capital. He said the flights would increase gradually over the coming days.

The United Nations has warned a total blockade could cause famine in Yemen, where war has killed at least 10,000 people in the last two and a half years.

Transport minister Mourad al-Halimi had said Yemenia flights to the pro-government-held cities of Aden and Seiyun would resume on Sunday, but the national carrier said it did not have the necessary permits to fly.

Meanwhile in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, the United Nations dismissed Houthi claims that a Saudi-led air strike had destroyed the navigation station of the international airport, which is critical to receiving already limited aid shipments.

Yemeni officials in Sanaa, which is held by the rebels, said the airport's runway had also been damaged, claiming repair crews were already at work. But the UN said most of the airport remained intact and that it would be able to receive aid shipments once they restart.

Jamie McGoldrick of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who is based in Amman, said UN staff had visited the airport and spoken with authorities there. "The runway, taxiway, ramp, terminal and air traffic control tower were not hit and are in good condition. This will have no impact on our operations once they resume," Mr McGoldrick said.

The US-backed coalition led by Saudi Arabia has been at war in with the Shiite rebels known as Houthis since March 2015. The coalition closed all Yemen air, land and seaports last week in response to a rebel ballistic missile attack on Riyadh. On Monday, the coalition said it would reopen ports in areas held by allied forces and loosen restrictions it had raised after the firing of the missile, which was intercepted near Riyadh's international airport.

However, Mr McGoldrick said there was "no indication" yet of the blockade being lifted.

While coalition announcements about the availability of two ports in southern Yemen are "helpful," the key need is access to the rebel-held Red Sea ports of Salif and Hodeida, which are currently inaccessible to UN aid shipments. More than two-thirds of the people in need and 80 per cent of all cholera cases in Yemen are closest to the two ports, which are both in rebel-held territory.

Aden, on the south coast of Aden, is the stronghold of the internationally recognised, Saudi-backed government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi. The port of Aden controlled by allies of Saudi Arabia but does not have the capacity, according to the UN, to handle the necessary volume of humanitarian cargo. And landing aid there would also involve having to cross front lines to deliver it.