Yemen’s war wounded find comfort in ‘brotherly’ Oman
Civilians injured in air strikes are being treated free of charge in the neutral neighbouring country.
Muscat, Oman – Zainul Abideen was nearly killed by an air strike in Yemen’s Saada province earlier this year.
Now, he is recovering in a hospital in neighbouring Oman, which has offered treatment to Yemenis injured in the war, now raging since March 2015, between the Houthi rebel group and an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
The coalition’s aim is to restore Yemen’s internationally recognised government led by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is currently in exile. The rebels control much of the north of Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa.
“I’m not angry,” 23-year-old Abideen said of his injuries in a soft voice. “I just want to go back to Yemen; study further; marry and raise children.”
READ MORE: Yemen’s children struggle to study amid war
Abideen recalled the strike last May, which brought down homes and sent clouds of dust everywhere. “When I opened my eyes, I saw villagers around me. I fainted.” He injured his neck, back and hands in the strike, which was aimed at Houthi rebel positions in Saada province, a stronghold of the group.
The business student will not be able to walk again. The sustained efforts of physiotherapists in Oman have guaranteed continued use of his hands, although he cannot feel his fingers.
Oman has been lauded by the United Nations and the European Union for its assistance to those affected by the conflict. The war has caused a humanitarian catastrophe and claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people, most of them civilians, according to UN estimates .
Although spokespeople for the Saudi-led coalition often deny targeting civilians, they recently acknowledged “wrongly” attacking a funeral in Yemen, in an attack that killed more than 140 people.
Sleeping opposite to Abideen’s bed is Hussain, a young man in his twenties from the small city of Amran in west-central Yemen who was injured when shrapnel pierced his jaw. His cheeks are stitched up, and a cotton ball soaked in medicine remains stuffed in his mouth.
Abideen’s brother Moammar Ali said there was no one to take care of Hussain, but that local Omanis regularly come to give fruit and juice to the patients. “We didn’t get this kind of treatment in Sanaa,” Ali said.
READ MORE: Yemen’s children struggle to study amid war
Another Yemeni patient, Abdul Khaliq Sufaan, 29, lay on a bed switching between WhatsApp and Facebook on his phone. “The last thing I remember was seeing a jet above the ground. The next day, I saw myself in a local hospital,” he said.
Sufaan, who was treated for a leg injury, said the coalition forces usually drop sound bombs to disperse civilians before launching attacks against the rebels. “But that day, there was no warning.”
The Yemen war divided the Arab world, but Oman succeeded in remaining neutral.
He said he was “overwhelmed” by the magnanimity of the Omanis. “Sometimes, I feel it’s embarrassing,” he said. “Volunteers and locals have been very helpful. They buy us fruits, tea, juices and even recharge our mobile phones so that we remain connected with our families back home. Who does that? Only your own.”
In the next ward, Abdullah, father of 11-year-old named Zahir, said he wondered why civilians are being forced to pay such a huge price in the conflict. “I thought he died,” said Abdullah, describing the bomb attack in his village that almost sliced off Zahir’s right hand. “I saw his guts coming out of the perforated abdomen on his injured thigh.”
After a month of treatment at a local hospital in Saada province, Abdullah was able to transport his son to Oman. “My son did not speak or move for 12 days after the explosion, but I did not lose hope. Thank God doctors in Oman offered the best treatment,” said Abdullah.
As the fighting in Yemen continues, observers say the growing humanitarian crisis in the country could become increasingly challenging for Oman.
“Oman’s significant humanitarian role has not gone unnoticed among Yemenis from all sides, and will stand the Sultanate in good stead in terms of its future relations with Yemen,” political analyst Leon T Goldsmith told Al Jazeera.
However, Goldsmith – who taught political science at Muscat’s Sultan Qaboos University until recently – said the financial burden of providing medical assistance could become much more onerous if the conflict escalates. “The UN may be asked to assist Oman in this regard, as part of negotiations,” he said.
The office of Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs, declined to comment on Oman’s role in the conflict, or to offer figures on the number of patients being treated in Omani hospitals.
Unofficially, however, thousands of Yemenis have been treated in Oman and then returned.
Health ministry sources said that two weeks ago, some 113 patients injured by Saudi-led coalition air strikes were given medical care in Oman. “On October 20, 130 more patients reached Oman for medical help,” the sources added.
One Yemeni politician, who was recently in Oman for peace talks, told Al Jazeera that “Oman keeps its role silent, and that’s the reason why they are accepted by all Yemeni factions”. Hasan Zaid, the president of Yemen’s al-Haq party, said: “The Yemen war divided the Arab world, but Oman succeeded in remaining neutral.”
Other observers say Oman is the “only” Arab country that the Houthi rebels trust. “This trust [that] Yemen factions, including Houthis, have for Oman did not come instantly, but rather with experience and by time. Yemeni factions are convinced that Oman seeks to help end the war in neighbouring Yemen and they let their actions speak for their intentions,” Hakim Almasmari, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Yemen Post newspaper, told Al Jazeera. “If not for Oman, there would be no hope to end the current Yemen war.”
Although Oman is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, it also maintains cordial relations with Iran and the Houthis.
Oman, the only GCC country not participating in the Saudi-led coalition, sees itself as a regional mediator bound to neutrality. “We couldn’t have participated in this coalition. It’s in our constitution. We don’t send troops or artillery anywhere, unless requested by the United Nations,” said a senior member of the Shura council, the lower house of the Council of Oman, who wished to remain anonymous.
Meanwhile, back in the hospital, Abdullah shared news from home, announcing that his wife had given birth to their fourth child.
“It’s a girl,” he said. “Isn’t it time to rejoice? But look where I am. Away from home, children and wife.”