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Yemen to allow flights from rebel-held capital

ADEN (AFP) – Yemen’s government will permit citizens living in areas controlled by Huthi rebels to travel on Huthi-issued passports, an official told AFP, removing a barrier to long-awaited commercial flights out of the capital Sanaa.

The flights are one component of a renewable two-month truce that went into effect in early April, but they have been delayed as warring factions squabbled over which documents passengers should use.

The government has agreed “during the armistice period to allow the Yemeni people who were held hostage to the (Huthis) the opportunity to travel through Sanaa airport, with passports issued by Huthi-controlled areas”, the Yemeni official said.

The government is “not responsible for any data contained” in the Huthi-issued documents, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity since they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Yemen’s embassy in Washington said that Yemeni authorities had accepted “a United Nations (UN) proposal to use (Huthis’) docs on an interim basis & only during the #truce”.

There was no immediate word Friday on when the first flight would take place, though the transport minister in Sanaa said the airport was ready.

A brutal seven-year conflict pitting Yemen’s government against the Huthi rebels has killed hundreds of thousands of people and left millions on the brink of famine.

The Huthis seized control of Sanaa in 2014, prompting a military intervention to support the government the following year, and igniting a war that has caused what the UN terms the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The airport in Sanaa has been closed to commercial traffic since August 2016 when air strikes disrupted service to the city.

The inaugural flight under the truce was planned for April 24 from Sanaa to Jordan’s capital Amman but had to be scrapped after national carrier Yemenia said it did not receive the necessary permits.

Each side blamed the other for the holdup, which drew a statement of concern from UN special envoy Hans Grundberg, who called for a quick resolution to the impasse.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) aid group said at the time the inability to operate commercial flights out of Sanaa had stranded “tens of thousands of medical patients” seeking treatment abroad.