The drums of war fall silent in war-torn Yemen for Ramadan
For Yemenis, Ramadan has dawned differently this year. For the first time since the war started seven years ago, the reported sighting of the holy month's crescent moon coincided with the start of the UN-brokered – and long-awaited – humanitarian ceasefire.
For seven years, the special atmosphere of Ramadan and all the traditional activities which accompany it have been practically absent. Life was dulled and dominated by fear, and the customary taraweeh prayers drowned out by bomb blasts all over the war-ravaged country.
Yemenis are looking forward to spending their eighth Ramadan since the war began differently, and hope to restore the time-honoured customs and spiritual quality of the holy month, which had almost vanished from their lives.
"Yemenis are looking forward to spending their eighth Ramadan since the war began differently, and hope to restore the time-honoured customs and spiritual quality of the holy month"
Opening the crossings
The silencing of the drums of war for 60 days from the first night of Ramadan wasn't the only good news that the holy month brought to the 30 million Yemenis: the UN also announced that urgent measures would be swiftly enacted to alleviate the severity of human suffering. First of all, they stated, this meant the partial opening of the air, sea and land ports.
The truce agreement, which is being overseen by UN special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg will allow those requiring medical treatment in Sanaa and the northern regions to travel to Egypt or Jordan.
This will happen via two flights weekly from Sanaa International Airport (which has been closed to civilians since the start of the war). In this way, Yemenis in the area will no longer need to endure an arduous 12-hour hike overland to Aden Airport.
In Taiz, southwest Yemen, the ceasefire has called for the city's main roads to be opened (these have been closed by the Houthis since August 2015). Opening the crossings will allow people to travel from the west to the east of the city in under half an hour. This was the norm before the road closures, which forced people to take hazardous mountain paths to make the same journey, which could last up to five hours.
For the residents of Sanaa and the northern regions, this Ramadan will see restrictions lifted on the entry of fuel ships to Hodeida port. It is hoped that this will ease the severe fuel crisis raging since the start of this year, which has further exacerbated the already desperate living crisis to unprecedented levels.
Relief as ceasefire takes hold
Ordinary Yemenis jubilantly welcomed the ceasefire declaration and there is some sense of optimism that a better future could lie ahead – a flurry of joyful messages conveying widespread relief on social media reflected the public mood. In a number of cities, especially Taiz, residential neighbourhoods celebrated the truce; the young and elderly alike.
Rather than exchanging Ramadan blessings, the congratulations being exchanged by Yemenis is overwhelmingly about the ceasefire – testimony to the deep suffering the war has inflicted on all Yemeni people at every level.
"Rather than exchanging Ramadan blessings, the congratulations being exchanged by Yemenis is overwhelmingly about the ceasefire – testimony to the deep suffering the war has inflicted on all Yemeni people at every level"
Mohammed al-Adini, a civil engineer from Taiz, says: "Ramadan really has brought us blessings… it is good the war in Yemen has come to a halt today. We hope that the next stage is one of genuine efforts to come up with comprehensive solutions for all the different ways we have suffered."
He acknowledges that the announced humanitarian measures are further good news which Ramadan has brought, but adds: "The scars which the war has gouged into the lives of all Yemeni citizens require other interventions, like an economic truce to restore the unification of the local currency between the country’s north and south, which will help ease the added suffering this has caused many."
Returning to Ramadan traditions
Visits between families and relatives were among the most prominent Ramadan rituals erased by the war during the last years, in particular in those cities contested by two different factions, as is the case in Taiz.
The blockade imposed by the Houthis on the eastern, western and northern crossings meant that those residing in Taiz, most of which is under the control of the Yemeni government, could not exchange visits with their relatives in the rural villages and the eastern neighbourhoods which fell under the Houthis' control, as had been normal before the war.
Immediately after details on the opening of the crossings in Taiz were announced, the inhabitants started making arrangements to spend a few nights with relatives. Among them is trader Muhammed Haddad who plans to stay a few nights with his mother who lives in Shar'ab village.
"The blockade stopped me travelling to my hometown because of the security situation, and my mother definitely couldn't handle the five hour journey on the mountain paths, but it will be easier now, the trip will be safe and won't last longer than an hour."
"Visits between families and relatives were among the most prominent Ramadan rituals erased by the war during the last years, in particular in those cities contested by two different factions, as is the case in Taiz"
However, there are obstacles when it comes to the immediate opening of the Taiz crossings. A security official (who wished to be nameless) explained: "The eastern and western crossings have been littered with landmines planted by the Houthis. So lifting the blockade will be a serious challenge for the joint committee tasked with lifting the siege in the coming days."
He adds: "We hope that those who planted the mines still have the maps showing where they are. If these areas are not completely secured from ground mines and explosive devices, travellers' lives will be in danger as happened in the Kilo 16 highway in Hodeida, where many met their deaths recently due to exploding mines, months after the crossings were opened."
In Yemen, the warring sides have used the "humanitarian card" as a means to apply pressure on each other, each seeking to portray the other as the sole perpetrator of atrocities. This practice on all sides is one of the most striking negative aspects engendered by the war, and has only fuelled the spread of suffering throughout the civilian population who have been exhausted by the all-consuming war.
"All the ones who can afford to leave [Yemen], have left [already]"https://t.co/oerVJo80sc— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) January 28, 2022
What began with a bullet fired has ended up with collective punishment and the deprivation of the human right to movement by land, sea and air. Journalist Ahmad Zeid believes that: "Yemenis fell victim to the political gambling between the sides, therefore it is essential that their human rights are restored to them in full, both the freedom of movement and the return to their original homes for those forced to live long years in camps for the displaced."
He continues: "While the announcement of this two-month truce represents a glimmer of light for the people, and will hopefully be reflected fast in humanitarian terms, we truly hope that the war will end permanently, because the people cannot take a new round of conflict. While they had began to become used to a state of war, starvation is something that they cannot coexist with. All sides need to realise what it means that millions have been living without an income for long years now."
This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.
Translated by Rose Chacko
This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.
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