TAIZ, Yemen - 11 April 2019: Here is besieged Taiz, we stopped on the confrontations’ lines with the Houthi militia. We were coming from the liberated Aden and Lahj to the governorate that is suffering under the Houthi siege since 2015.
The city, which is known as the cultural capital of Yemen, still resists to catch up with the liberated cities of Yemen. It provides a model for steadfast resistance despite its siege from the north, east and west, without an exit except the south side. The governorate includes 23 directorates, 17 of them are liberated, and there are still confrontations to liberate the rest. The crisis in Taiz is different from other governorates. Houthis controlonly a few areas, but they surround the city from the top of the mountains around it, as Taiz is surrounded by many huge mountains that are difficult to secure or control, including the mountains of Surq, Habashi, Al-Wazeaia, and Samea.
According to the people we met, the reason for the prolongation of the war in Taiz may be its geographical nature. Siege, sniping, mines and indiscriminate slaying are widespread in the city. The infrastructure is destroyed, and the health sector has been destroyed by 80 percent. It has only 4 hospitals and most of the medical staff are displaced, while the rest are working under sniper fire, and they are subject to be kidnapped at any moment.
The road to the besieged city is not the same as other governorates. The distance from Aden to Taiz exceeds 300 km, which takes at least 6 hours. Along the road you can see the beauty of the desert with its beautiful colors and high mountains formations. This beauty is mixed with danger, as the Houthis have made many parts of the road a target for their snipers, and every inch document one of their crimes. In every inch you will find a story of a murdered, a kidnapped or a disabled person.
During the trip we were accompanied by Major Hayel Mohamed from the Ministry of Interior of the legitimate government. He is one of the people of Taiz who took part in the fierce battles of Taiz. Along the road, we watched some scenes, starting with the fortress of Al-Maqatra –near Al-Robou market which is attacked by Houthis from time to time- which we ascended to the top. We also passed by “Al Kood”, these mountains which snipers use as platforms to fires hells indiscriminately at citizens.
As we moved from Al-Maqatra to Hayga Al-Abed area, Major Hayel pointed to the place where the Houthis blew up a small bridge a week ago. The explosion caused a hole in the road which represents a sign of the crime. We moved from Hayga al Abed to Al-Khyamy area, where another Houthi crime took place. In this location, as Major Hayel explained, the Houthis killed journalist Mohammed Al-Qudsi last February. He worked for Balqis channel; a missile killed him while he was covering a military ceremony in the presence of the Deputy Minister of Interior. Some people said they were targeting the MP. The incident also killed 6 citizens.
We completed the road until we reached the area of Al-Misrakh, which was occupied by the Houthis for five months before it was liberated about a year ago. In Al-Misrakh, there are some simple aspects of life. It gathers a small number of small shops, a popular market and poor houses, most of which are partly destroyed by the war. The roads are unpaved, crowded with trucks and dilapidated minibuses with no one to regulate their traffic. On one side of the road, we noticed a charred car. We were told that it was carrying Hajj Fouad Abdullah Al-Hamadi and seven members of his family. A landmine exploded while they were passing through this area. It was a terrible accident that killed the whole family, which had nothing to do with politics.
As we passed, our escort pointed to the area of Talouq on the mountain. He said it was the region that suffered the most from the tyranny of Houthis. The region was cut off from the roads so that its inhabitants have no access to food, and the suppliers of aid and relief material had to use donkeys to deliver food to the residents. Then we crossed from an area called “Al-Dabab” and we wanted to go down to get some photos, but the Major told us that we were not allowed to go down in this area, and also it is not safe because it is a very dangerous area. It was one of the largest Houthi barracks and an important base for Al-Qaeda, although they were not in large numbers. There are also some sleeping cells in it.
In Al-Reboua market
On the way to Taiz, we also found a market that looks traditional and old. It is called Al Reboua market. The only road connecting Lahj and Taiz passes through this market. It is located in Al-Reboua district of the Directorate of Al-Moqhatara. We got out of the car despite Major Hayel's warnings that it is dangerous to stand on the road close to the mountains, where the Houthis bomb from time to time. We found mobile food carts, and vendors on the ground selling simple foods, including some fish, vegetables and fruits, besides selling Bedouin herbs to treat some diseases. From far away, comes the sound of old Yemeni music, although they expect treacherous strikes at any time. Mohammed Al-Saab, one of the vendors, told us: "The Houthis were settled here for a while, and last year they controlled the market. They cut off the only road that connected the countryside of southern Taiz and Toor EL-Baha in Lahj. No one was able to buy any vegetables or goods. They also cut off the road of Taiz-Lahj after they tried to control Mount Han to close the only southern entrance to the city of Taiz."
"After some time the Houthis left thanks to the national army and the coalition. Now they fire mortars from time to time indiscriminately, and when this happens we collect our belongings and leave," he added.
Baleeg Abdullah, a citizen in the market, added: "Last week, we were hit by a shell that killed two people. The bombing increases at night. This is our life and we are used to it, but we don’t allow the kids to leave the house alone”.
Taiz is famous for its numerous markets, but the number of markets gradually decreased and the Houthi strikes have affected many of them. Of the most famous markets are: “Al-Shaneini Market, Al-Dabab market, Al-Nashma market, Damna Khdeer market, Al-Khela market, Mouazea market, Hagda market, Maweea market, Al-Mesrakh market, Yafres market AYusr and Souk Al-Burh. "
When you enter the city in the area of Berbasha, you find a number of scattered shops mostly small shops manufacturing furniture, blacksmiths, selling the necessary goods and car tires, and a barbershop looking for customers.
Among the streets of Berbasha there is a street named after the late leader Gamal Abdel Nasser in the center of the city, the people told us: “We named it after the name of the Egyptian leader Abdel Nasser because we love him”.
As the night approached, security preparations became intense. Many of the streets were closed to passers-by with iron barriers. We reach the children's hospital, which is not far from the streets of the city center, but as we got close we found the roads closed as a security measure because the clashes with the Houthis were renewed.
Since the siege of Taiz in March 2015 to 2018, the Houthis have committed 2,935 murders, including 771 children, 490 women, and 1,674 civilian men. According to the statistics of the Human Rights and Development Center of Taiz, the causalities have reached a high record compared to other governorates: 17.929 injured, including 3,799 children, 2,022 women, and 12.108 civilian men.
Dr. Hamoud Al-Zeab, president of the Human Rights and Development Center in Taiz, explained to us how the Houthis committed 225 mass massacres, all of which were committed in densely populated residential neighborhoods, popular markets and passers-by streets. The most famous of these massacres was Beer El-Basha on October 3rd, 2016, when Al-Bareed Street was bombarded by a mortar shell; 11 Yemenis were killed and 19 injured. He added that there were 168 deaths between 2015 and 2018 due to kidney failure and lack of therapeutic services, while mine casualties accounted for 292 dead and 317 injured during the three years.
Dr. Hamoud added that Taiz has become the scene of several types of violations by Houthis, between torture (26 cases) and enforced disappearance of civilians (542 cases). He pointed out that there were 43 special prisons, besides targeting 48 journalists and media professional, aborting 135 pregnant women as a result of shelling, and there were 469 cases of disabilities and amputations.
According to Dr. Hamoud, 2476 houses and buildings were demolished from a total of 3,891 public and private facilities destroyed as a result of Katyusha attacks, shells and artillery. As a result of this severe humanitarian situation, 7,795 families were displaced, which is the highest rate of displaced persons in Yemen. Also 604 health facilities, 224 educational establishments, 84 Mosques, were negatively affected. Besides that, 8 archaeological sites were damaged, most notably the Taiz Museum.
Children always pay the price
Children in Taiz in particular, and Yemen in general, had the largest share of Houthi's oppression. The story of the girl Alaa, 2 years, is an example of this. She is the victim of indiscriminate bombardment and poor facilities in hospitals destroyed by the Houthis. They made them mere empty buildings, without the necessary life-saving medical equipment.
Wissam Abdul Fattah, the father of the girl -who works in a simple job in an electronics shop- recites the story: “On the first of November 2017 at 2 pm, Alaa was playing and crawling at home as usual, in the presence of her mother and brother. A mortar shell hit the house next door; the shrapnel broke the windows and Alaa was hit by shrapnel in the feet”. He continued: “I left work quickly, and we took her to Al-Thawra Hospital where they performed first aid to stop the bleeding. Then she was transferred to another hospital where the doctor decided to perform a leg operation and she was admitted to the operating room for 6 hours. We were told that the operation succeeded, but we were surprised the next morning by the doctor telling us that Alaa needs to amputate her left foot. Her foot at the time has begun to turn black. We refused the doctor's decision to amputate her leg and took her to another hospital, where she was examined by a doctor specialized in arteries and veins. He told us: "Unfortunately you are late. She needs an artery transplant, which will cost one million two hundred thousand riyals."
"We do not have anything. Friends helped us in the hospital as they had to leave their weapons in order to complete the procedure of the operation. The girl was admitted to the operating room for 4 hours. The doctor came out to surprise us saying that the girl was not operated on previously, and that the veins were tied without taking our permission. The doctor tried to save her, and performed four operations, but each time the blood at the tip of her leg clots, and as a result a bleeding happens. Last time the doctor decided to amputate her foot in order to preserve the rest of her leg, noting that the other leg had four shrapnel, and was operated on for times”. The father went on to talk about the suffering under the Houthi bombardment, pointing out that there was no water, no electricity, no means of living, and Taiz was and still is suffering from the imposed siege. You cannot leave the house because of the Houthi bombing that do not distinguish between the resistance elements and civilians, or between the old and the young; everything that moves in the streets is a target of sniping by the militias. The militias prevented even the humanitarian aid from entering the city."
“After my daughter’s accident, I felt helpless as I can’t anything for her because of the circumstances, and there is nothing to help me to travel and treat her. The hardest thing is standing helpless before your kids," he added.
War on hospitals
We passed from Gamal Abdel Nasser Street in the city center on our way to Al-Thawra Hospital located in Al-Osaeefra area. It is one of the main hospitals receiving the wounded from the fronts in Taiz. Hana Bakr Al-Sweefy, a female employee in the hospital, told us that the hospital is subject to sudden shelling and a large part of it is destroyed. She said with tears in her eyes, “We mourn the young people coming every day from the fronts and they end up dead or disabled. We hope someone would save those young people. This is so unfair."
One of the hospital's supervisors, who refused to be named, said that the doctors are kidnapped like Anwar Al-Sharabi who was kidnapped last February. He was beaten and the hospital was closed for a while. He pointed out that the building is subject to bombing and the upper floors were destroyed. Only the ground and one floor are left. So, even those trying to save the wounded, are killed. This is the law of the Houthis.
The stories of the heroes of the Taiz fronts
Inside Al-Thawra Hospital, you can find rooms crammed with beds, modest resources, and hot air without ventilation or cooling, doubling the pain of the wounded waiting for doctors to ease their suffering. But there are hardly any doctors, as the medical staff is too limited compared to the large numbers of wounded every day.
We met with a number of wounded, some of them are civilians, and some are soldiers and young people from Taiz fronts. They are the real heroes of the battle, among them Mohammed Abdul Rahman Al Haj, 24 years old and waiting his first child. He told us: "I was hit by Kalashnikov bullets in my right leg and chest during clashes with the Houthis in Lwazem front. I was part of the popular resistance and served in the army. The confrontations were fierce; they resisted us with heavy and sophisticated weapons; they were thirsty for blood and rely on treachery in the management of their battles."
"I want to heal, to go back to the front”, Mohammed continues. He adds, “We will fight them till the last breath. There is nothing more important than our homeland”. On the bed next to him lies another young man, who was injured in confrontations on the front of Sala -one of the fronts of Taiz- named Muammar Al-Ahmadi, who is 18 years old. He was about to get married, but he preferred to start liberating his country. He told us his story, “I wanted to establish a small project to help me get married, but at that time the Houthi attack began and my goals changed; it became the liberation of Taiz first. The women here understand that and my fiancé told me go to the front, and we will get married, God willing, after the liberation of Taiz. We share the love of our country."
He continued: "First they attacked us with a mortar shell. Then 4 snipers sniped at us. I was shot, and then we crawled, and tried to save the life of one colleague who was in a very dangerous condition, but he preferred to bleed till he died." Abdul-Ellah Abdul-Fattah, who turned 23 few days ago, and is currently receiving treatment at Al-Thawra Hospital, tells us his story: "I was working in a shop and our life was going on fine. I never thought I could fight, or be part of any battle, but this is our fate. When the Houthis entered, I joined the demonstrations, which were peaceful demanding that they leave our country. They fired at us a lot of bullets and mortars, and people died. At that moment I decided to go to the front”. He continued, "I was wounded while we were on Al-Tashreefat front. I had six colleagues by my side. They are also my friends, and the feeling of pain connected us; the ordeal united us as it united the people of Taiz. Bullets were shot at us, but we managed to avoid them. After a while an artillery shell was shot at us, and two of my colleagues were martyred and we were injured. The Houthis have no war ethics. They act like gangs."
He continued in apparent pain, “I want people to know the crimes of this gang and what they do to the people in Yemen. We were fighting daily and were watching the children recruited by Houthis to fight us, many of them on the front of Al-Tashreefat. We were 6 when we were hit by an artillery shell. Two of us died, some lost their legs and some were injured in the spine. I was injured in my leg and abdomen. They then took us to the hospital here. They operated on us, but there were some missing equipment and resources. We hope that the countries help Taiz and its people because our enemy is well armed."
Yasser Ghanem: I was shoot at on my away to work
In front of the bed of Abdul-Ellah, lies his colleague in Al-Tashreefat battle, Yasser Mohammed Ghanem. He is 19 years old, and his right leg was amputated. During our conversation with him, we knew that he used to play sports until the Houthi war ended the lives of dozens and caused permanent disabilities to hundreds. He told us his story: "I was in the Faculty of Engineering, from a well to do family. Two of my brothers were killed by Houthis. I continued their path and participated with the soldiers on the front of Al-Tashreefat."
Yasser continues: "They fired heavy artillery shells at us, killing two of us and the rest are being treated in the hospital here. Some of them have their legs amputated, like me. I will not stop fighting Houthis, no matter what happens, because they are criminals and tyrants, and we do not want them in our country. We fight them in defense of our religion and faith, and to protect our nation from tyranny. Even the defenseless citizens are hit attacked by rockets and bullets”.
He confirmed, "We saw with them weapons with the names of Iranian companies. The remnants of the rockets fired by them carry the slogan of Al-Shaheed Baqari Company, affiliated to the Iranian Aerospace Industries Corporation. Iran supports them with all its might."
Sherif Abdo: The last wounded individual inside the hospital
A few hours before we arrived, he was not a fighter on the front, but an ordinary citizen who was the victim of the Houthi's crimes, like thousands of Yemenis, Sharif said, "I am married and have 3 children. I work in a small factory in Al-Sirmeen area. I left in the morning heading to my work. Sometimes there is no transportation; it is scarce because of the lack of oil, or the roads are closed due to clashes with the Houthis. Me and others are forced to walk for hours in the heat until we arrive at our work exhausted. But the danger is more important than the heat. On our way we are subjected to snipers or mortar shells, and this is what happened with me.”
Sharif continues: “While I was walking with three others by my side, suddenly mortar shells fell on us. Two people died, and others were injured. I was injured in the leg, heart and the arm. We are armless civilians, but the Houthis do not have mercy. Sometimes the shells fall over the childre, as what happened a week ago; 9 children were playing in the school’s yard, a shell fell on them killing six children and wounding three. This is our situation in Taiz. I hope the world helps us to expel fear from our country. "
Abdul-Aziz: I saved the wounded but I was injured
From the heroes of the fronts to the civilians, who are also heroes, we met Abdul-Aziz Al-Mothneb, who tells us the story of the championships of the sons of Taiz: “I am an ordinary citizen from the area of Al-Selal and I was injured in the area of Mazaala. I was not fighting on the front but I was trying to rescue the injured."
He continued: "There were three wounded people from the front in bad condition, but I couldn’t help them. Unfortunately, there were no ambulances to save the wounded, so I carried one of them. While carrying him, 20 snipers from the area of Al-Selal, who were on the mountain, fired bullets at us. The wounded person was killed, and I fell on the ground while carrying him, and I felt nothing. We will not be afraid. We will continue till we liberate Taiz."
Abdul Mageed: Honor is more important than life
“Honor is more important than life”. With these words Abdul-Mageed Fawaz –who is wounded in his right foot- started narrating his story: “I was working in a lawyer’s office, and my life was quiet and simple. But when the Houthis attacked and the army turned on the state, I decided to join the ranks of the resistance to defend my country”. He continued: “Honor is more important than life. Every human’s life is precious, but defending our women, our land and our dignity means “our honor”. What does life mean without honor!"
The 25 year old Abdul Mageed continued his story, saying: "We fought on the front of Maghmana, with 10 children in front of us carrying Kalashnikov and some of them are numb, including those carrying weapons heavier than their weight. We are fighting the children of Yemen because of the Houthis. But we did not shoot at them. Then I was hit a bullet in the right foot after a battle that lasted 6 hours. I bled while crawling on the ground as I ran away from the shower of bullets. Two of my colleagues helped me till I arrived at the hospital. They operated on me, and took out two bullets, but one remained in my body. The wounded feel double the pain because the painkillers are not available, and those available are not effective. But we say thank God."
Al-Hussein: We will continue fighting
Al-Hussain Hamiri, 21 year old and one of the victims of the fighting in Taiz, said: "I was studying business administration. We were young people dreaming of a bright future, and the war turned us into handicapped elderly people. The Houthi gang destroyed Yemenis and they are seeking to erase our Sunni identity. We decided to resist this gang because we knew their malicious intentions. The resistance only controlled a few meters of the city of Taiz, and we were able to expand that area. I served in the 35th Brigade on the western front of Taiz. One night we wanted to enter our barricades, but they shot at me and a group of young people. I was injured in the right leg and before that I lost my family as war victims too."
He continued, "If I had the chance, I would fight them a thousand times. I lost everything because of these militias. We want the United Nations to stand against this gang that plant mines and bombard citizens everywhere. They even manufacture them locally from TNT and other material, and put them indiscriminately between homes. The mines are long-term, and this is a danger that will continue to threaten future generations."
Mahmoudi: I dream of reading my PHD
"Amputation cannot end the dream of a human being”. With this sentence, Muhammad Abdullah Al-Mahmoudi from the resistance in Taiz, started talking. Al-Mahmoudi lost his legs by Houthi shells before he turned 18. He said: “We are a simple family. I was working with my father as temporary labor in a factory near the city for only a small amount of money that is barely enough for our daily expenses. I got a diploma of secretarial and I wanted to complete my education at the university and get a scholarship from abroad to study for my PHD."
"I was shot in my two legs while I was in Tabaat front in January 2016, and I was taken to the hospital. I underwent several operations to save my life, and then I remained without treatment because we were besieged and we did not have the cost of the treatment”. He continues: “The injury or amputation of my legs will not be the end of my dreams. I am exerting efforts and submitted my papers to several entities to get a scholarship. We will continue to defend our freedom against the brutality of the Houthis. We live under siege; there are mines in every inch. We are exposed to indiscriminate shelling over the 24 hours; we spend days without going out to the streets. As for women, they cannot go out."
He confirmed that the Houthis are financed by Iran and are trying to impose their control on shops, factories and banks to plunder the wealth of the Yemeni people and destroy their youth.
Governor of Taiz: The situation is catastrophic .. Dr. Mohamed Amin: The number of victims of the Houthi bombing are not less than 20 deaths and wounded a day.. And the militias destroyed the infrastructure and more than 80% of the health sector
We monitored the situation in Taiz and the size of disaster, but we wanted to document also by the talking with Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Governor Dr. Mohamed Amin .. The following interview:
What is your assessment of the security situation here in Taiz?
The security situation in the city is very difficult because of its siege on three sides. Only one outlet has been opened between Taiz and Aden, which is very dangerous and difficult. Although the legitimate government has checkpoints that are secured by security forces, there are still elements of the Houthi militias over the mountains that embrace the road, and Taiz is bombed around the clock, killing and injuring every day.
There is a big security defect, because the police forces is completely destroyed, and when the Houthis entered the city, they burned down police stations and archives completely, and killed the officers. Now we are rebuilding the police and sections with the support of the legitimate authority as we have 3000 element that are receiving training.
What is the reason for prolonging the war here, and what is the role of popular resistance?
- The mountainous nature of Taiz and its rugged terrain have played a role in increasing the suffering and make it even more difficult to try to defeat militias, open roads or even deliver relief. But despite all this, there are great achievements by the National Army with the support of the coalition forces to support the legitimacy, and the people have a basic role in the protection and organization of life here. Taiz, which is considered the most densely populated, has 5 million inhabitants and the highest percentage of education and the largest cadre in medicine and engineering, they represent 30% of the total university students in Yemen, and at the economic level a large proportion of traders. The people of Taiz were determined to continue with their war to the end and rejected the Houthi project. The resistance emerged from the first day of the war in peaceful demonstrations. They shot and killed hundreds, but the national army in Taiz formed from the popular resistance. Then formed military brigades.
In your opinion, why does Houthi cling to Taiz precisely?
- The Houthis dream of the return of the Caliphate in a place called the “Yemeni Mutawakle Kingdom”, which was located on the northern part of Yemen. Taiz is an important location in this map. It also controls 140 kilometers of important coasts, including Bab El Mandab and Mina Al Mukha, Red Sea, and the liberation of Taiz means the fall of the Houthi project.
What about the military situation?
- The Maha Directorate was liberated a few months ago, bringing the number of directorates in Taiz to 16 out of 23. As for the unregistered districts, they do not control the entire area, but they control the main transport routes, from the south east to the west, what separated the liberated and un-liberated cities are paved routes which represent lines of separation, and they are present on these lines.
I assure you that if we have full support, we would have liberated Taiz in three days, we now have 41,000 soldiers. We have a huge number of enthusiastic young people prepared to sacrifice for their homeland, but we lack support as I told you.
What about the role of coalition forces to support legitimacy?
The coalition forces led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE play an active and fundamental role in the war and have succeeded in liberating many cities, especially the west coast.
As for Egypt, it is the leader of the Arab nation. It is at the heart of every Yemeni. It supports the Yemeni people, both in its presence in the coalition forces or in the Yemeni community. It also treats dozens of wounded Yemenis on its territory. Yemen is an advanced security belt for Egypt, the region and the world. It has all the thanks for this role.
How do the people of Taiz live under these circumstances?
When Houthi entered Taiz, they destroyed whole neighborhoods, and this is the case in the northern and eastern regions, and their families were displaced in large numbers estimated at thousands in the camps, and there is a disastrous situation in terms of health and education in the water, and there is significant support from the King Salman Center for these camps and international support, but we need greater support.
Here, too, journalists are being killed in cold blood, and the bodies of the victims are everywhere. Every day, not less than than 20 people are killed and wounded. There is also a crisis in transportation. Only 10% of the total work is due to lack of petrol and a crisis in Gas, whose production has been completely halted since the war, but the legitimate government is making great efforts to support oil as much as possible, which is essential for life.
Do you have hospitals and medical facilities to accommodate these numbers?
Taiz has a large number of hospitals, but the Houthi group destroyed 80% of the health sector, and 90% of the medical staff was displaced by the war, and we currently rely on 4 hospitals, which is the hospital of the revolution, which is shelled and wounded inside, and the upper floors are destroyed, The health situation is very deteriorated and catastrophic. Many of the wounded die in emergencies because of the lack of operating rooms. Many civilians die because there are no mechanisms for their speedy recovery and the lack of medicines.
What about utilities and infrastructure?
The infrastructure has been completely destroyed for three years. The citizen in Taiz does not have electricity. These services are stopped. He can pay for solar panels and there is no drinking water. The citizen even suffers from getting it from charity organizations or private wells.
How do you evaluate the role of the international community and the United Nations in the Yemen crisis?
A vague and unclear position, and we appeal to them to move effective action to save the people of Taiz, because convictions are not enough alone, there are UN resolutions which must be applied.
In the next episode .. Heroes on the fighting fronts in «Taiz» .. Houthis attack on women and journalists .. The mother of the three martyrs: I dreamed of them being bridegrooms and celebrated on the day they passed.
This article is part of a series of articles on Yemen by Eman Hanna.Hanna has taken a 30-day trip to monitor the suffering of the people during the war .