Unexpected, unimaginable and unforgettable, thats how I’d best describe my Friday.
The gunfire and shelling lasted all through the night, so much so when I woke my head was pounding. It was all too reminiscent of scenes I’d watched from holocaust films like ‘The Black Book’ and ‘Defiance.’ The morning was serene and brisk for a friday morning.
The calm after the storm lasted briefly. The fear of the unknown, anxiety of the shelling, the fact that no one knew what was happening, and when it would come to an end, were moments that best described the day. We stayed indoors discussing potential escape routes if the situation debilitated. Flights weren’t an option. By afternoon it was clear, international airlines, Emirates and Etihad airways, had suspended their services to the capital. Turkish airlines and Yemenia were still operational.
The phone services and internet stopped in the morning, and was sporadic for the rest of the day. In the meanwhile, the Houthis raged on and took over several prominent buildings in the capital:1st Armored Division, 30 metre street, Al Yemen TV, Shamlan. Nobody saw this coming, not even President Hadi. Most Yemeni people expected a deal to be signed between the Houthis and the government, but by now it was evident there was no end in sight for the fighting. This wasn’t the first time the media were targets. Back in 2011, military forces loyal to the Saleh government brought down Yemen Satellite broadcaster Suhail TV, state-run Saba News agency, and Al sahwa.net.
In the late afternoon, I heard sounds of warplanes hovering over the Yemen Times building. Tweets online suggested the government had finally woken up and were conducting air strikes on some of the encampments. By evening, the casualties had increased to around 200 , and the fighting had intensified in parts of the capital. A journalist who frequents Yemen Times and travelled to some of the ravaged areas, including Shamlan, told me residents fled their homes for fear of safety, while many eye-witnesses saw bodies perish in the streets as the rebels manning the checkpoints refused entry to hospital ambulances.
Where was the UN Special envoy, Jamal Benomar in all this? Late friday evening, the UN issued a statement that said, three days of talks lasting close to ten hours, on Wednesday and Thursday had come to a close in Saa’da. However, there was no mention of the outcomes from the negotiations and next steps.
Widespread news reports suggested part of the Houthi plan was to bring down Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a Sunni General who served as both – President Saleh’s chief military adviser, and President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s closest advisers. At one point, Al-Ahmar was considered Yemen’s second-most powerful man to lead six wars against the Houthis between 2004 and 2010.
Despite the violence that continued into the evening, I stepped out briefly to the ‘dukan’ get a sense of word-on-the-street. The shop owners were glued to their little television devices. The pharmacist I was picking up vitamins from was fraught with worry, “this is not the future we had hoped for,” he said echoing similar thoughts to my arabic professor Ghaleb. But, the kebab owner seemed rather pleased the Houthis had slowly taken over. I couldn’t understand why because of my poor comprehension, but I could sense his relief and joy, “Houthi tammam,” he said. (meaning houthis are good )