Sanaa residents: ‘The war is really here’

As Saudi-led coalition launches military offensive against Yemeni rebels, tension pervades the streets of the capital.

People gather at the site of an air strike at a residential area near Sanaa Airport
Vast swaths of residential areas next to the el-Rahaba International Airport were buried under large chunks of debris from fallen buildings [Reuters]

Sanaa – Air strikes resembling lighting and plumes of dark smoke engulfed the skies during the early hours of Thursday morning in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa.

Later that morning, vast swaths of residential areas next to the el-Rahaba International Airport were buried under large chunks of debris from fallen buildings, intermingled with charred vehicles. The airports runway was damaged and the smell of burning lingered in the air, while personal belongings from ravaged areas were strewn around.

Residents stood at the site and stared in disbelief. It had finally hit them. 

“The war is really here,” flight engineer Ahmed Ali, 60, told Al Jazeera.

RELATED: Analysis: Can air strikes military intervention save Yemen?

The Old City in Sanaa was untouched, but the sound of warplanes hovering in the sky continued throughout the night.  

It was a nightmare. I hadnt heard something like this since I was seven years old. I dont even recollect [whether] the bombing was nearly so bad during the 1962 revolution, but yesterday was unimaginable,Ali said.

 Yemen conflict – war or words?

The Gulf Cooperation Council and its allies, consisting of 10 countries led by Saudi Arabia, have launched a military offensive against the Houthi rebels, who stormed Yemen’s capital in September and in the last week seized Taiz to the south. The situation has prompted President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee the country.

Many people expressed fears that they would be displaced, while other families were fleeing in droves, apprehensive of what the next day would bring.

Ahmed Tariq, who runs a travel agency in the al-Hasaba area on Qiyada Street, was weary and tense. After waking up to the sound of loud explosions at 2am, he said he could not return to sleep and decided to close his business on Thursday. 

Still, Tariq told Al Jazeera he believes the air strikes are necessary. “Houthis didn’t care about the people in Yemen. All they cared about was power and running the streets with weapons,” he said. “They refused peaceful negotiations.”

Meanwhile, tension and fear pervaded the capital’s streets as other residents attempted to resume their daily routines. A central coffee shop on the usually bustling streets of Sanaa, typically filled with laughter and chatter as locals prepare for the weekend, was deserted.

Schools and universities remained closed and some residents opted to stay indoors as sounds of loud explosions reverberated throughout Thursday, even in areas not directly targeted by the strikes.

RELATED: Q&A: Yemen: ‘This is not a sectarian war’

Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to to the United States, said the military action aimed to “defend the legitimate government” of Hadi and the people of Yemen. But some were sceptical about the implications of international interference in the country, and condemned the recent action.

Nawal Ahmed, who works in Sanaa’s immigration centre, said she was up all night crying because of the air strikes.

Why [do they] come and involve themselves in our problems?” she said, referring to the Saudi-led coalition. “We are Yemenis. We will try and find a way to resolve this.

Many Sanaa residents said they did not believe the air strikes would end anytime soon, and were preparing for another long night.

Source: Al Jazeera