Sanaa – Yasmine, a woman in her early twenties who is seven months pregnant with her first child, took shelter on her kitchen floor in the Asser district of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, as the sounds of air strikes grew louder this past weekend.
Yasmine, who declined to provide a last name, said she could feel the strikes drawing nearer to her, and she woke up to the sound of windows shattering and splinters of glass raining down.
“My bags are packed and I’m ready to go,” Yasmine told Al Jazeera, adding she hoped to return to the village where she was born. Frail and weary after three sleepless nights, Yasmine said she could feel her baby move more often than usual; her mother comforted her by joking that the baby was hungry.
Yasmine, who relocated to Sanaa after her marriage less than a year ago, did not envision this future.
After the first night of aerial bombardments in the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm, aimed at quelling the advances of Yemen’s Houthi rebels, long queues of vehicles were lined up next to gas stations in Sanaa and people were leaving in large numbers. As the strikes intensified, more families started the journey back to their villages from the capital.
Al-Mukalla, Yemen – The Saudi-led military offensive has left an increasing number of Yemenis stranded at international airports, after the Saudis imposed a no-fly zone on Yemen to prevent Houthi rebels from bombing rival forces and halt possible arms supplies from Iran. Yemenia, the national airline of Yemen, subsequently suspended flights.
“I was supposed to be in Yemen on Friday. I feel really sad. I do not want to stay longer as I am having a lot of work in Yemen,” Adel Salah, who works for a relief organisation in Yemen, told Al Jazeera from the Jordanian capital Amman, where he was stranded.
Talal al-Azani, who got stuck at an Indian airport after his flight to Sanaa was cancelled, had been en route to Yemen for his brother’s funeral. “I was told at the airport that the flight was cancelled,” Azani told Al Jazeera.
Stranded passengers cannot reach Yemen by land via Oman or Saudi Arabia, as both countries require visas. International airlines suspended flights to Sanaa when the Houthi rebels tightened their grip on the capital in January.
An official with Yemenia told Al Jazeera that the airline, which sent six planes to Djibouti to protect them from the heavy bombardment, would “resume flights when the air strikes stop”.
-Saeed Al Batati
Families were taking a variety of precautions, “scared that their homes might be hit by Saudi-led strikes or by the Houthis’ anti-aircraft, even if by accident,” Yasmine said.
With buildings reduced to piles of rubble, residents likened areas hit by the military offensive to a ghost town.
Waleed al-Zwadi, a business administration student at Sanaa University, was leaving for al-Haima village, along with his family of 15. He brought only a few personal belongings, including a gas cylinder and a washing machine. The strikes have had devastating consequences on their everyday lives, he told Al Jazeera, with sporadic water, gas and electricity.
“At least in the village we will find water and wheat,” Zwadi said. “There, we will have wood to bake the bread.”
As of July 2014, more than 334,000 people were registered as internally displaced in Yemen. With the recent air strikes, the numbers are estimated to be higher.
Meanwhile, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has reinforced support for Saudi’s military assistance and blamed Iran for instigating the unrest. “You are destroying Yemen with your adolescent trickery,” Hadi said at the Arab League Summit in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday.
Hossain al-Bokhaiti, a member of the Houthis’ political office, condemned the strikes as an aggressive move by the United States, Saudi and its allies against Yemeni people. “Less than 10 days ago, Yemenis were saying a final goodbye to loved ones who were killed by [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s] Friday mosque bombings. Now they are killing more people,” Bokhaiti said.
Zwadi said he was hopeful to return to Sanaa when the situation eased, expressing fears that “this will go on for a long time. [I] hope we will not turn into another Syria.”
Hasna Mohammed, who has four children between the ages of 12 and 20, said she was abandoning her rented home in Faj Attan, which came under heavy attack on Saturday, to return to her village in Hayaz, north of Sanaa.
With little hope the political situation would reverse and no plans to come back for a year, she told Al Jazeera: “I don’t care about my children’s schools and universities when I fear for their safety. I will send them to schools in the village.”
The family would work the land to earn an income and sustain the family, Mohammed added, expressing disappointment that the air strikes appeared to be the only recourse against the rebels.
“I just want to go to Saudi Arabia and ask them if they understand what my children are going through. It is physically and mentally traumatic,” she said. “At least in the village, inshallah [God willing] the strikes will not reach us.”