SANAA, June 18 (AP) — A commercial flight carrying more than 270 Yemeni Muslim pilgrims left the rebel-held capital Sanaa on Saturday for Saudi Arabia, about 7000 miles away, an official said. The first such flight in years.
Khalid al-Shayyef, director of Yemeni airports, said the flight from Yemen’s national airline Yemenia, also known as Yemen Airways, departed from Sana’a International Airport at 8:00 p.m. local time, bound for the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah.
He told the Associated Press that the plane was the first of five to transfer this year’s Muslim pilgrims from Sanaa to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, and for every Muslim who can afford it and is in good health, Pilgrimage to Mecca is necessary once in a lifetime.
In addition to the Sunday flight, two other flights were scheduled on Monday and Wednesday, while Houthi and Saudi officials were working to arrange another two, he said.
The Yemeni capital has been under the control of the Iran-backed Houthis since they retreated from their northern stronghold and overthrew the internationally recognized government in 2014. Houthi’s takeover prompted a Saudi-led coalition to intervene in 2015 to try to restore the government. The coalition closed Sana’a airport in August 2016 as part of an air and sea blockade of Houthi-held areas in Yemen.
Millions of Muslims from around the world will gather in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, starting next week to begin days of rituals at holy sites in and around the city.
The flights between Sanaa and Saudi Arabia were another sign of easing tensions between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, which has been trying to end its involvement in the state’s conflict.
Saudi and Houthi officials have met several times with the aim of negotiating a solution to the conflict. Such talks gained momentum earlier this year when Saudi Arabia and Iran, the main foreign backer of the Houthis, struck a deal to restore diplomatic ties after years of tension.
In recent years, the conflict in Yemen has turned into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It devastated Yemen, already the poorest Arab country, and caused one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. More than 150,000 people, combatants and civilians alike, were killed. (Associated Press)
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