Saudis Above, Houthis Next Door, and Death All Around
The view from the ground in Sanaa.
SANAA, Yemen — In the early hours of June 13, the Amari family was asleep in their home in Beit Meyad, a district near the heart of Sanaa. Then the bombs came. At least four missiles struck their street in quick succession at around 2 a.m.
A nearby shop selling gas cylinders was hit; there was fire everywhere. The family scrambled to flee their house. They were almost outside when an explosion blew the building’s main gate off its hinges, ramming into four of them and sending them flying backward into the house.
Four siblings were killed instantly: 11-year-old Iyad, 18-year-old Abdel Qader, 22-year-old Mona, and 25-year-old Aisha. Their cousin, Ahmed al-Amari, who lived next door, was also killed by the blasts. He was 10 years old.
“They were torn apart. We buried pieces of them,” said Boshra al-Amari, an aunt to the victims. She lives two streets away and huddled with her three sons in her home that day as the missiles rained down.
The four siblings who were killed are survived by an 18-year-old brother and a 20-year-old sister, who is now in shock and unable to speak. The mother of their dead cousin suffered only a broken arm, but she is in a state of hysteria. She believes the children were injured but are still alive. Fearing for her psychological state, Boshra has not had the heart to tell her they are all dead.
The attack also killed five members of the Akwaa family, who lived next door, including three children, bringing the death toll to at least 10, all of them civilians and five of them children. Up to 60 people were also wounded in the strike.
Beit Meyad is a residential district, but the presumed reason for the strike is that enemies of Saudi Arabia lived in the area.
On March 26, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab countries began bombing Yemen to stop the advance of a rebel group known as the Houthis who took over the capital in September and continued their march southward, seizing control of large parts of the country.
Saudi planes have bombed sites across Yemen on an almost daily basis for nearly three months, backed by logistical and intelligence support from the United States. In addition to military targets and weapons depots, the airstrikes have hit the airports in Aden and Sanaa, where two destroyed commercial airplanes still lie on the tarmac; a refugee camp in the northern district of Haradh; and several UNESCO-protected heritage sites, including most recently at least five houses in Sanaa’s 2,500 year-old Old City.
In addition to the airstrikes, fierce street battles have broken out in Aden, Taiz, and elsewhere between the Houthis, who are allied with forces loyal to ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is in exile and other opponents. More than 2,500 people have been killed in the conflict and over 11,000 injured, according to the World Health Organization.
Since the beginning of June, analysts and residents in the capital say, the bombing campaign has entered a new phase: Planes have begun targeting the homes of Saudi Arabia’s enemies, rather than just military targets. Civilians have found themselves increasingly caught in the crossfire.
The street where the Amari family lived was home to the residences of Saleh’s nephew and his brothers. They weren’t home at the time. Earlier this month, the house of Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali, was bombed, as was his office, which is located near a popular Internet cafe in Sanaa. On Sunday night, June 14, the home of a close Houthi ally in the Faj Attan area of Sanaa was also bombarded.
“They are trying to terrorize and punish their opponents,” said Maged al-Madhaji, a Sanaa-based political researcher, adding that Saleh’s allies do not sleep in their homes anymore. “It’s an idiotic strategy and it’s a sign of their failure. They don’t know what to do. They can’t win this war from the air.”
The Saudi-led air campaign is far from the only danger Sanaa civilians like the Amari family face. Boshra said the night after her relatives were killed, a shell from an anti-aircraft weapon fired by the Houthis hit her roof and another landed in her yard. “Their sound is terrifying,” she said. “We get some kind of shrapnel from them hitting our house almost every day.”
The rapid booms of anti-aircraft fire fill the sky in Sanaa whenever the roar of a passing warplane is heard — and sometimes even when it isn’t.
Dr. Nasr al-Qadasi, the head of the Goumhouri hospital in Sanaa, Yemen’s second-biggest hospital, said he receives three to five patients a day who have been wounded by anti-aircraft munitions. “They shoot randomly and without purpose,” Qadasi said. “I am more afraid of the anti-aircraft fire than of the missiles.” In a report in May, Amnesty International found that anti-aircraft munitions shot by the Houthis “were the leading cause of casualties in the capital.”
Meanwhile, Boshra is at a loss of what to do as her family members, like so many Yemeni civilians, are trapped in the fighting.
In addition to the five family members she lost two days ago in a Saudi airstrike, her 80-year-old aunt died in the town of al-Jalilah, some 90 miles northwest of the capital, after being wounded as a result of shelling by Houthi-allied forces; the aunt was unable to reach a hospital for a month due to the fighting and finally succumbed to her injuries. In Aden, Boshra’s cousin’s husband, who is mentally ill, was shot by snipers as he was walking in the street. And a relative of her brother-in-law, a pharmacist, was kidnapped by Houthis in Sanaa last week.
“I don’t see this ending,” Boshra said with tears in her eyes. “I think things will get much worse.”
She lost her job as a reporter after the Houthis closed down the newspaper where she worked. Her husband has not received a government salary in three months. They now rely on a relative living in the United States who sends them money. She wants to leave Yemen, but with the borders closed and hardly any outbound flights from Sanaa, she remains trapped inside.
“There is nowhere safe,” she said. “I want to protect my children but everywhere is targeted. I don’t know how to protect them.”
Photo credit: MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images