Houthi rebel fighters outside the residence of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on December 4, 2017 - AFP/Mohammed Huwais
Aden, Yemen - 9 April 2019 : Here is Aden, or “Yemen eye”, as Yemenis like to describe their city. The beginning of the journey was from here, from the city, which enjoys a distinct geographical location on the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea in the south. The city combines mountains, sea, beaches and markets. It is also the economic capital of Yemen, as well as the city of major events in the history of the country.
Aden was known for its resistance since the British occupation in 1839, until it became a target for Houthi guns since March 2015. Its streets are worm in its eight directorates, although the war has left its mark on every inch, leaving great destruction everywhere. But you can also sense the city's attempts to revive again since its liberation in July 2015 and its declaration as the interim capital of the legitimate government.
The port of Aden adds another important aspect to the city. It is the second largest natural port in the world and its location at Bab al-Mandab makes it a unique link between the east and the west and the Suez Canal. It is the most important natural port on the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. It controls the Red Sea route, and the surrounding of the port combines industrial, fishery, commercial and tourist activities.
Aden also has its touristic importance, with its warm beaches and beautiful resorts, as well as its importance as an industrial city, with its factories and production units, including Aden refinery, which was destroyed by the Houthis.
Securing Aden airport
From the first moment of our arrival at Aden airport, Yemenis showered us with love. Egypt was the word that opened all doors and hearts and facilitated our mission inside Yemen. We found a delegation from the Presidential Palace at our reception welcoming the first Egyptian newspaper to the heart of events in Yemen since the outbreak of the crisis.
We noticed the organized work and the maximum security procedures at the airport in cooperation with the UAE security forces. The airport was a center of clashes with the Houthis; its halls and observation decks were destroyed when the Houthis controlled it 2015. At that time they converted the airport to military barracks, and the airport was liberated in July of the same year. The legitimate government, in cooperation with coalition forces, rehabilitated it after its liberation.
The inspection procedures continue in the area surrounding the airport, Kohor Maksar. In this area there are few shops; most of them are selling wood and furniture. There are some buildings that still bear traces of the war on their walls. On the road there are security guards but they do not wear uniform, which might make it difficult for passers-by to verify which entity the inspection teams belong to.
Resistance is carved on the walls
“One hand together to defeat terrorism”, “Terrorism will not defeat Aden”, "We will stand firm against terrorism”: These are sentences that have drawn our attention as they spread in banners all the way to the city. There are also pictures and banners of the names of martyrs of Houthi shells, or pictures of those who were kidnapped by Houthi militias. The walls also turned to paintings with statements condemning Houthi terrorism, and documenting the insistence of Yemenis to win the war. The statements in the areas of Krater and Kohor Maksar are not different from those on the walls of the University of Aden -destroyed by rocket shelling- with some additions that fit the university, its atmosphere and the enthusiasm of its youth. In the university we found statements as: “No retreat and no escape until the implementation of the resolution”, “We will revenge.. The Houthis are not one of us”, “You are worth thousand martyrs Yemen eye”, “All of us are one hand for you Yemen”, and “We will liberate you, no matter how late”.
Displaced in Aden: Houthis kidnap children
We noticed that Am Hassan was sitting in the street. I went to him and knew that he is a displaced citizen from Hodaidah. He told me, "The coalition forces are all standing with us and we say thank you, if it were not for you, our country would be gone."
He talked about his suffering in Hodaidah, which is controlled by Houthis, "I fled to Aden two weeks ago after my family and I spent a period suffering since it was controlled by Houthis. I sent my children to Fateh region of Aden two years ago," he said.
"We never witnessed a war like this. They attack violently and take away children and young men from the streets for recruitment and use them as human shields in the war. They kill anyone who tries to escape from the front. This is why I sent my children to Aden."
“We live in hunger, deprivation, and sickness. There is no milk for toddlers. Houthis are spread out in the streets there, hiding as qat vendors in order to watch people. Weapons are spread in the streets; it is easy for anyone to sell or buy them. Snipers are stationed on the roofs of buildings in the area of 7 July. They also steal relief supplies, and people suffer from famine, especially in the countryside, in particular the village of Ein Zabib, where there is no food or work. Even when there are some goods in the shops they are sold in double the prices. For example the price of one kilo of rice reached 500 rials instead of 300 and the price of one liter of oil is 800 rials. In the end I would like to tell the Houthis: what you’re doing is not good for Islam or for Muslims."
The traces of war on Yemenis’ faces
The scenes of Houthi destruction are not unseen in many areas of Aden: Krater, Al-Mualla, Al-Tawahi, Khor Maksar, Al-Mansoura, Dar Saad and Al Bureijah. In each of these areas we find destruction in houses whose owners were forced to emigrate internally or externally. The stories of the people of Aden documented the crimes of Houthis.
In Kohor Maksar area we noticed the destroyed buildings. There is no family that does not have a martyr or a wounded person who was hurt by the war that suddenly hit Yemen. The most severe invasion of Khor Maksar killed more than 122 people and wounded 724 Yemenis from March to July 2015, according to the statistics of the Yemeni ministry of human rights.
A resident of the area, Mohammed Al-Yacatini, who was sitting in front of one of the destroyed buildings in the shade of a tree told me: “The war started from here, the Houthi missiles hit us; bombing the houses. Many people were martyred and the houses were used as military barracks, forcing the residents to migrate to rural areas and areas inside Aden, where the situation may be calmer like Al-Mansoura, leaving their homes whose walls were penetrated by sniper bullets, and some have been destroyed by Houthi missiles.
"During the war life almost stopped, without work or education. We could not go out to earn our daily living. We were trapped and the Houthis did not allow us to move," he said. "There are buildings that were burned to the ground. Khor Maksar, Al-Tawahi, Al-Areesh, and Krater were the most war-affected areas."
“On June 24, in the night we heard two explosions in the university housing and in Al-Ezabiya neighborhood. The explosions left more than 40 people killed and wounded”.
He concluded in a hopeful tone, "Aden has begun to take its first steps to improve, especially in electricity, repairing of some roads and better security conditions, but it still needs further development, especially in economic aspects."
Khor Maksar: The worst invasion
With a sporadic breath coming out of a pain-ridden chest because of his family members killed by the missiles, Mahdi Mohammad, said: “The beginning of the war in Aden was the missile that was launched on March 24th, 2015 to Maashiq palace after the president ran away from Sana'a. Another missile was fired on March 25, and then Houthi invasion of various regions of Aden started. The bereavement was when the indiscriminate shelling of the population started on March 25, 2015 in Al Saada neighborhood in Khor Maksar. The first shell killed 17 young people who were sitting in the street and then the shelling of the buildings continued.
Mahadi continued: "Terror was dominating everyone and the children were terrified. Restaurants and shops selling daily needs were closed. Now the shops are back, though limited, but better than the days of war." Stressing his optimism because of the legitimate government, he said: “Aden became safer”.
Mall of Arabia
In Khor Maksar, we found a huge burned building, followed by several buildings. When we asked the residents of the area, we learned that it was a huge mall with a sign saying “Mall of Arabia”. It was hit by a Houthi missile. Yafea Al Ahmadi, a resident of the area, told us the details of this incident: “This shopping mall was the biggest mall after the compound of Aden. It was hit in 2015, a year after its establishment. It was a destination for many, generating millions of rials, and was attached to a hotel. The attack also destroyed a number of cars along with two restaurants around the mall."
Ahmed Al Rowaie, from Dar Saad and a member of the popular resistance in Aden, continued the story saying that his area witnessed the most horrific massacres carried out by the Houthis: the massacre of Dar Saad. He remembers the details of the massacre saying: "We were beaten and bombed from 14 to 16 July, 2015. It was the third day of Eid El fitr. They were chanting: “Death to America ..Death to Israel”. Around 100 people were killed and wounded, including many women and children, according to the estimates of the Yemeni Ministry of Human Right”. “We were trying to save the children, but Houthis were hitting anybody trying to rescue the injured”, he added.
Al Rowaie added: "Two months before the massacre we heard of Al-Tawahi massacre, which took place in May. The people who were hit by the mortar tried to flee from Al-Tawahi after Houthis entered it, but they spotted them escaping by boats from the port of Al-Tawahi and killed dozens of families including women, children and old people."
Bombing in the month of Ramadan
From “Dar Saad” to “Al Mansoura” we have monitored many violations and crimes committed against Yemenis. "We were bombed during the month of Ramadan in 2015. First they fired 4 shells. A day later they fired two shells, and they fell on blocks 4, 5 and 6", said Al-Zandi Mohammed, a resident of Al-Mansoura district. “Hours later, two shells fell on two houses, including a house owned by a person named Mohammed Ahmed Qassem. Many people died”, he added. Thirty persons died and 40 wounded, according to the statistics of the Yemeni Alliance to monitor human rights violations.
The sight of children and women was very sad, especially a child and his mother who were martyred holding each other. It was a difficult scene that made us hate Houthis more and more. It made us eager to fight them, and many of us volunteered in the popular resistance."
From the Brega region of Aden, Amran Mohammed, a Brega citizen, said, “In the period leading up to the liberation of Aden on July 17, 2015, the Houthis intensified their strikes with Katyusha rockets on the districts of Brega in Salah El-Deen, Kubgain, Al-Ghadir, Al-Brega, Code El-Nemer, Madeent el Shaab, and Beaar Ahmed.
Al Adha Mortar
The massacres against Yemenis during the holidays were not limited to Aden only. Yemeni human rights activist Hammoud Al-Deeb, president of the Yemeni Center for Human Rights and Development, asserts that the same technique was used is a horrendous war crime on the first day of Eid Al-Adha in September 24, 2015, two months after the Aden incident. Houthis dropped a Katyusha rocket on the livestock market in Tahrir Street in the center of the city of Taiz in conjunction with intense artillery shelling targeting several residential neighborhoods near the market, resulting in the deaths of 9 people and the injury of 35, all of them civilians, including 5 children, according to statistics of the Center.
Ammar: The rocket killed my friends on the night of Eid
The children of Yemen are the fuel of the war and its real heroes. In every region, the small, slender bodies bear the marks of violations against humanity. Ammar Jassem, who is not yet seven, tells his story. He went to play with his friends on the night of Eid Al-Fitr, and asked his father to prepare the Eid gift. His father replied, "Okay, Ammar, you will find it when you come back". Ammar adds innocently, "I went out to play alongside the house and there were lots of friends with me and also neighbors, including Ahmed, Ghassan, and Hussein, while Muhammad said I’ll come in a while. We made a circle and took two turns looking to the sky, and then Muhammad came with a ball in his hands saying it’s his father’s Eid gift. I told him my gift will be here shortly. My father promised me."
He was silent for a short while, as though his innocence was wrestling with the memories, and then he continued: “After a while a missile fell on us killing 8 of my friends. Something heavy fell of us and I didn’t see anything. I wake up later in the hospital and asked about my friends and I was told they died. I know that the Houthis killed them."
His father continued, "On the last day of Ramadan, on the eve of Eid al-Fitr before sunset, Ammar asked me to go out with his friends to play in a nearby yard as usual to celebrate the feast. I promised to get him new clothes to celebrate the feast. Suddenly there was chaos and people running telling me your son and the kids were hit by a rocket. I didn’t believe them and I ran to the place to find bodies of 8 children, and my son with three wounded children between life and death. One of whom lost an eye. I ran to the hospital with my injured son, where they told me his right leg must be amputated. The problem was when he woke up and me and his mother didn’t know what to tell him about his leg. He asked and we told him Houthis hit you but I will have another similar leg implanted for you and you will be able to play, don’t worry."
The father continues his sad story, “Ammar cried so much and was so sad. He started psychological treatment, but then we didn’t have enough money to buy the artificial leg. We went to King Salman Center for artificial limbs and they provided us with the leg and helped me return life to my son. But he is still psychologically devastated. He wakes up from his sleep yelling: The rocket, dad”.
I asked Ammar about his wish, and he answered with determination that far exceed his age, “to take revenge from the Houthis because I will never play again."
Human rights violations since 2015 and during the Houthi siege of Aden were more than the destruction of buildings and displacement of citizens; they included several crimes. According to statistics of the Ministry of Human Rights in Yemen violations included killing, injury, arrest, enforced disappearance, torture and targeting of the population with mortars, Katyusha and mines. In Aden 2713 people were killed, including 100 children, and 190 women, while 17864 were injured. The total number of establishments hit was 17930. As for the enforced disappearance and the arrest they amounted to 17,899 cases. Even the humanitarian work was subjected to violations. Among them, the Higher Relief Committee monitors the prevention of entry of 65 relief vessels and 615 trucks, and the retention of 13,815 relief baskets, looting and selling them on the black market.
Dr. Mohammed Askar, Minister of Human Rights in Yemen, said that the humanitarian situation in Yemen in general was not good before the war; 60% of Yemenis were below the poverty line. After the war, the humanitarian situation deteriorated dramatically. The deterioration reached its peak in 2015, as 69% of the violations took place that year. The Houthis sought to turn schools and hospitals into operations’ centers and military barracks to become military targets for coalition aviation, so Houthis can accuse them of targeting and attacking residential areas.
"We certainly condemn any strikes against citizens, whether by Houthis or what sometimes mistakenly done by the coalition. Sometimes the coalition admits the mistakes; they have an assessment team for the news or information about the mistaken strikes. Accordingly the rules for determining the targets are reviewed. The evacuation and humanitarian operations cell of the alliance confirmed that there are 14,138 targets banned from targeting, most notably the camps, schools, locations of displaced persons, hospitals, and archaeological sites,” Askar added.
He refers to the formation of several committees by the Yemeni side competent in this regard; the Committee for compensation of those affected by these strikes, and the National Commission to investigate allegations of human rights violations. They investigated 17 thousand complaints, 3,000 of them were validated, and President Abed Rabbo ordered the prosecution and then the judiciary to investigate them.
Askar adds, “We also have a team of senior experts of the Human Rights Council, which was established by Decree No. 36/31 of 2017. Its mission is to verify the human rights situation in the country and investigate the violations. Also recently a headquarters of the Ministry of Human Rights was established in Aden to receive complaints from citizens and spread awareness of international human rights law, which are all mechanisms to stand against any violations of any party against civilians."
Abdul Aziz al-Maflehi, the former governor of Aden and advisor to the Yemeni president, confirms that since the armed invasion by Houthis every sector in the governorate has been attacked. The militias committed war crimes and focused on destroying the infrastructure. They targeted the educational sector; some schools, colleges and the University of Aden were destroyed and some educational facilities were used as military centers or shelters for the displaced persons. On the other hand, Houthis used Katyusha rockets on June 19 and 27, 2015 to hit Aden refineries, which were famous for heavy oil production. They also hit the Museum of Aden and looted its monuments. The number of destroyed schools amounts to 153 schools, and the number of students who stopped their education during the war amounted to 17582 in primary education and 27290 in secondary education.
According to the statistics by the Yemeni Coalition for Monitoring Human Rights Violations, the war in Aden left 500,000 displaced and 194 forcibly disappeared.
Shelling University of Aden
One of the places that reflect the destruction caused by the war in Yemen is the University of Aden. It is the biggest university in Yemen, the first university in South Yemen, and was established before the unification, according to the head of the university, Dr. Al-Khudair Sour. The first of its colleges was "Higher Education", which was established in 1970. In 1975, the law on the establishment of the university was officially issued. It has 20 colleges, including 7 colleges within Aden, and the rest in the governorates of Lahj and Abyan. Sour pointed out that the university was the headquarters of the Yemeni People's Democratic Republic before the unification of Yemen.
Al-Khudair explained that the University was hit by Houthi bombardment in June 2015. The headquarters included seven educational centers for doctoral and master's students, in addition to the administrative buildings. He added that work was done to restore this educational edifice despite the lack of resources, thanks to the strength of the determination of the people of Aden, who made great sacrifices. He pointed out that this year will witness the reconstruction of buildings destroyed by the war.
Eyewitnesses on the incident
From inside the university, Hussain al-Mahmoudi spoke to us: "The Houthis bombed the engineering building and I lost my colleague Ammar and another colleague. We were preparing to graduate. The truth is that we have lived through horrific moments. Study stopped at the university and we fled from Khor Maksar because the attacks were severe. But thanks God life returned to what it was before the war."
Abd al-Fattah Farid, a resident of the university area and an eyewitness to the events, described the bombing of the university as "horrific". He explained that the Houthis used it as a military barrack, a storage place for weapons and a platform for firing rockets into other areas. Clashes between the resistance and the Houthis took place inside the university. The students turned into popular resistance heroes. School stopped, and then they fired Katyusha rockets as they tried to control the place.
"The sea swallowed 20 families from Al-Tawahi in moments .. there are some bodies still in the sea," is a phrase that is repeated by the people of Aden, whom we met, and this pushed us to go to Al-Tawahi Directorate to take a closer look to the scene of the bloody incident.
One of the residents guided us to the port of "Dkatt Al Baylat” or Al-Tawahi port which witnessed the worst crime committed by Houthis in Aden. Inside the port we met with Adel Harbi, one of the workers in the Department of Tourist Guidance and a witness to the incident. He told us that the port was established in 1850 when Aden was named a free zone, and the British abandoned the old port of Sirah and thought of establishing another port with better facilities.
He spoke about the accident that happened in the port, saying, “After the Houthis killed the commander of the fourth military zone, Aly Nasser Hadi, they moved from al-Ma'ala to Al-Tawahi. The legitimate forces gathered in the camps here. Since Houthis entered the people began to gather every day in groups. The boats took them to Brega and Mansoura to escape Houthis’ cannons. On Wednesday, 6 May, at exactly 10 am, they hit the port from Dakkat al-Bakari area opposite to it with four mortar shells. The first one hit the port, in which the residents gathered. The people were injured and others who were on the boat drowned. Three other shells were thrown into the sea. This was during the time when the families rode the boats with their children. They did not carry weapons or anything to protect them. They only carried their children after Houthis surrounded the area. During their presence in the sea on small boats taking them to Brega they were hit by shells and turned into pieces. More than 27 families were killed."
Harbi continued, “We were trying to rescue them and take them to the military hospital of Basheib. Their clothes were soaked in blood. After that, we worked for more than five days to remove the bodies from the bottom of the water. The search in the sea continued for more than five days, and 15 bodies were found including women, children and old people."
“Houthis are very malicious and the easiest thing for them is mortar shelling. Aden was full of beautiful hotels, but they ruined it all. For example, the area of Nashwan was visited by many people. It was rich in landscapes, but they destroyed it”, he added. “We are steadfast and confident in the legitimate government and the coalition. God willing, we will continue chasing Houthis for the last moment in our lives, and we will drive them out of Sana'a. All of Yemen will be back to us", he confirmed.
Selim Al-Mohammedi, a resident of the area and one of the eyewitnesses of the incident, said, “We knew people who were killed, they were preparing to leave for a while, as they could not earn their living. The day of the accident I was at home with my family and we heard the sounds and the cries of people "Help.. Houthis hit us". We ran out of our homes and we found some people on the ground in the port, and others drown in the sea. We tried to help and rescue people taking them to the hospitals, including children who died on our shoulders in the road. We were all affected by this accident and can’t forget it."
Resisting with a smile
Despite all the manifestations of destruction caused by Houthis in Aden, you also notice the attempts to return to normal life. We went to Al-Mansoura market, and we spotted shops selling shoes, toiletries, clothing, hardware and electrical equipment. Nearby there are some restaurants, and international chains, such as Baskin Robbins. Customers from several places, go to such shops, although high prices reduce the purchasing power of the population.
We also moved to Krater popular market or the "Old City" market. It is the most famous and important market in Aden because of its location in the center of the city which is called "Old Aden". Although it still bears traces of the destruction caused by the war, yet many customers head to it. There we met Mohamed Zein, a guard of an old building, who told us: “Krater is the old Aden area, where there is the Maashiq palace, the headquarters of the government. It was hit during the war."
In the area also there is the largest popular market here. A large number of tourists and residents used to visit. It was first named Al-Kilo market. When the Houthis entered, the first thing they did was attacking using tanks and guns, and the snipers were above the mountains surrounding the area. They attacked several malls in the market, including Al-Rehab the Queen, and the headquarters of the Yemeni National Bank. In one day 19 people were killed. They burned the buildings, hit the qat market, the vegetable market and Arwa Street. Now the trade is not as before, but we hope the situation is getting better and I say to the Houthis: You destroyed everything beautiful in the country ... may God destroy you in the way that you destroyed our country."
In the area of “Sira” we found another form of resistance to the war; the children at the gates of “Sira amusement park” carrying colored balloons. We approached them to know their story and how they defeated fear with a smile. Moussa Al-Rubaie, Abdullah Zuhair and Ahmed al-Labani talked about their suffering while fleeing from Sana'a as Houthis controlled Aden. Abdullah, 13 years, said “Houthis fired bullets at our house. The youth of the resistance stood in their faces, but without weapons, and I am not afraid of them, but I hate them because they destroyed our country”. Moussa, 6 years, did not comment except in one sentence: “I hope to wipe out the Houthis and return back our country."
As for Ahmad, who is not yet 9, he says that he comes from time to time to the park, which is considered an outlet for playing with his friends. He does not care about what the Houthis do, but what he knows is that he left his city in Sana'a and came without his toys. He added innocently, "I left a teddy bear that I had since I was born, and when I asked my mother to take it with me while we were fleeing, she asked me to leave and hurry up or we will die."
"Since the liberation of Aden, the government has faced several challenges in the provision of basic services, especially after the destruction of infrastructure and facilities, particularly electricity networks due to war. Providing cash to pay employees’ salaries is also a challenge," said Mohamed Nasr Shazly, deputy governor of Aden. “Establishing security and maintaining stability is another challenge, as Houthi elements and extremists are trying to stir unrest and destabilize Aden through terrorist bombings to undermine stability and obstruct the work of state apparatuses,” he adds.
He pointed out that the security department of Aden recently announced the arrest of a photography team affiliated to ISIS. The team possessed high-tech photography equipments, including cameras and lenses. A den used by this ISIS cell was also found where weapons and explosives were stored. Also ISIS black logo was found on the cameras used by the team to record suicide bombers' wills.
Before that, last February, ISIS adopted a double suicide attack on the headquarters of the government's counter-terrorism forces in Aden, killing 12 people, including a woman and her three children.
This article is part of a series of articles on Yemen by Eman Hannah. Hannah has taken a 30-day trip to monitor Houthi crimes, the suffering of the people and the role of the coalition forces in restoring the Arab country from the hands of Iran's allies, documents revealing Houthi plan to spread the Shiite ideology, the mandate of the Faqih, and change the curriculum.