Life on the streets of battle-scarred Sanaa

Life on the streets of battle-scarred Sanaa
Residents of Yemen's capital try to live as best they can surrounded by fighting, as rebel Houthis clash once again with government forces.
3 min read
19 January, 2015
Houthi fighters have once again taken to the streets of Sanaa [AFP]
Popular host Sara al-Zawqari was on her way to work at the Yemen Times radio station when those working in the office told her to head home.

"Those working on the early show were stuck in the offices when the fighting started," Zawqari said, referring to the clashes that have broken out in Sanaa between Houthi militias and the few state forces still loyal to the president Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

"Callers called in to say that this wasn't the Yemen they wanted."

At home, in the Asbahi district of Sanaa, things were not much better. A stray shell hit the building behind Zawqari's home, and then landed in the garden, blowing out the windows of the house.

Battles rage as Yemen Houthis advance on presidential palace in capital, Sanaa.

"There were only women in the house," said Zawqari. "So many people tried to come and get us, but the roads were all blocked. Eventually a cousin came and we went to check if friends were okay."

The sense of fear and uncertainty was echoed by Sadeq al-Wesabi, a communications officer for an international NGO.

"There are no clashes in my area, but such fierce conflicts might spill over into neighbouring areas and expand overnight," Wesabi said.

"I had to stay at home today as the roads have been blocked. My wife couldn't go to work. Many friends are stranded in the conflict-hit areas. It's not about whether you live in conflict-stricken areas or not. It's about the state of panic and terror that clashes cause to people in all Sanaa."

Busy commercial areas such as Haddah Street, one of Sanaa's main roads, were closed by armoured vehicles for periods, and clashes centred around al-Nahdain, a hill that overlooks the presidential palace.

Fighting appears to have stopped there when Houthi militiamen emerged victorious.

It's not about whether you live in conflict-stricken areas or not. It's about the state of panic and terror that clashes cause to people in all Sanaa.

Sadeq al-Wesabi

Yousef Taqi, a civil servant, said that he heard clashes begin early in the morning from his vantage point in Haddah village, which overlooks the southern part of the city.

"I went out at 8am [5am GMT] and suddenly heard clashes at about 8.35am," Taqi said. "We're used to regular gunfire, but heard heavy weapons this time."

However, Taqi added that in Haddah village things were fairly normal. "People can hear the fighting, but buses are operating as normal. People are going about their business," he said.

This sense of normality for Sanaanis away from areas of fighting can be linked to the huge amount of unrest that has plagued the country since the 2011 uprising against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Although the Houthis effectively took control of Sanaa in September, there is still uncertainty over who, if anyone, controls the state. Today's events have compounded that.

"In all the country's of the world, a coup is defined as the takeover of state radio and television, and important government institutions, and then the announcement of the 'communique no 1'," said Yemen's deputy minster of environment, Ammar al-Aulaqi, on his Facebook page.

"Except in Yemen: the Houthis control the radio and television, all the ministries... and security institutions... And after all this, we hear that a presidential committee will be formed and negotiations will begin," he added sarcastically.

Yemenis struggle on. "Whatever battle is happening, they should finish it and let people get on with their lives," said Sara al-Zawqari, with the sound of gunfire in the background. "Wherever there's gunfire, people have to flee. Sanaa is a ghost town."