Life in Yemen's war zone

The latest issue of the Yemen Times gives a rare glimpse of daily life in the Saada war zone:

In the countryside of Saada, there is no electricity or phone service and generators can be deadly.

According to one resident of rural Dhahyan, her neighbours communicate by hand-written letters, and when violence is nearby, the entire village retreats to the fields to wait out the battle with the sheep and the goats … 

She said even families with generators don’t turn on the lights because they also fear being mistaken for enemies by either side. 

“They strike randomly, and the villages are in the middle,” she said.

Journalists are excluded from the area and the paper quotes an email from a nurse at the Sallam Hospital in Saada city saying the city is surrounded by army forces and hospital employees are now confined to hospital grounds: “We always have this thought of the rebels firing back and hitting the compound … We have no idea of how to defend ourselves or escape.”

The Saada coordinator for Medecins du Monde, Dr Akram Abdullah Adam, tells the paper that travel restrictions and security concerns are keeping his staff confined to the city.

Fighting usually takes place along roads, at checkpoints and near schools. In the villages, schools are often the centre of political life and are the first buildings to be occupied by whichever military force is in control. “He who captures the school captures the whole village,” Dr Adam says. 

Some 10,000 people fled their homes during two days of fighting in Saada province earlier this week, according to Sheikh Saleh Habra, a tribal leader who has often represented the Houthi rebels at peace negotiations. The latest UN estimates put the total number of war-displaced at 125,000-150,000.

The UN news service continues:

The “sixth war” between the army and Houthi-led rebels broke out on 12 August, and so far hundreds of civilians, mostly women and children, have been killed in army air strikes, according to Habra. Local sources said, on condition of anonymity, that hundreds of soldiers had also been killed or injured in the recent clashes.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 21 August 2009.