US welcomes Sanaa’s first commercial flight in six years

The Biden administration on Monday welcomed the news of a commercial flight departing from Yemen’s airport in Sanaa, which marked the first time in almost six years that a passenger plane departed from the rebel-held airport.

The Yemenia Airways flight left the Sanaa airport just after 9 a.m. local time. The Amman, Jordan-bound flight was carrying some 130 passengers, including patients seeking medical treatment abroad. 

The Houthi-controlled airport has been closed to commercial traffic since the Saudi-led coalition, which controls Yemen’s airspace, intervened in the country’s civil war in 2015. 

“The United States welcomes today’s flight,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “We hope it will enable Yemenis to travel to see loved ones, seek medical care and find respite from the conflict.”

“The United States encourages the parties to seize this opportunity to advance broader peace efforts for the sake of the Yemeni people,” he said.

Blinken pointed to the efforts of Yemen’s government and US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking in facilitating the flight, and thanked the governments of Saudi Arabia and Jordan. 

Why it matters: The resumption of passenger flights from Sanaa’s airport was among the conditions of a two-month truce aimed at paving the way for peace talks between the Iran-aligned Houthi rebel movement and the Saudi-backed government. Since it took effect in early April, the agreement has largely held despite violations reported by both sides.

The UN-announced truce was met with a sigh of relief in Yemen, where the Saudi-led bombing campaign, Houthi attacks and resulting humanitarian crisis have killed nearly 400,000 people, uprooted millions from their homes and left the Arab world’s poorest country teetering on the brink of famine. 

What’s next: The Biden administration has made ending the civil war in Yemen a foreign policy priority and is working to extend the truce past its May deadline. 

Blinken called on all sides to adhere to the terms of the fragile agreement, which also calls for the reopening of roads to the southwestern city of Taiz, where the Houthis have maintained a siege for seven years. Hundreds of thousands of people living in the Yemeni city are in need of humanitarian assistance. 

Know more: Andrew Parasiliti discussed access to Taiz and prospects for peace in a wide-ranging interview last month with Lenderking

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