Thursday, August 18, 2011

Yemen's Arhab, Bombarded Back to Prehistoric Times

While the world's media has been dominantly following news of  Libyan's rebel's advancement towards Libya's capital Tripoli, the massacre of civilans across the cities of Syria and the famine in Somalia, Yemen's news seem to be more and more marginalized.
Yemen hasn't been enjoying much media coverage since the beginning of the revolution mainly due to the lack of international and regional support for it. In addition there were only a handful of foreign journalist based in Yemen reporting. Most of the news about Yemen that seemed to make it to the headlines were the ones involving al Qaeda or President Saleh's medical condition after the June 3rd attack and his statements. News especially about Yemen's humanitarian suffering came secondary and hasn't reached the international media, as much, if ever.

Arhab is a district 20 kilometers north of Sanaa. It is near three camps of the elite Republican Guards, who benefited from significant American counterterrorism aid and are strategically located there guarding an entrance to Sanaa and the city's international airport. The Republican Guard forces headed by Saleh's son Ahmed, who also heads the special counterterrorism unit, have been brutally shelling and bombarding Arhab villages after they declared their support for the revolution, especially after some tribesmen prevented Republican Guards from heading to other provinces to crack down on anti-government protesters. Many tribal fighters, soldiers and civilans have been killed as a result and hundreds of families displaced yet the world rarely hears about them despite their daily suffering.
Since March 30th, the Republican Guards aided by the Air Force launched massive daily attacks against the tribes of Arhab and those of the nearby district of Nehm. The shelling disrupted the villagers lives, destroyed their homes and caused many residents to flee for safety elsewhere. Many of them sought refuge from further shelling in the caves of the surrounding mountains. By the end of June more than 1500 families were displaced, 95 houses completely destroyed and 150 houses partially destroyed, 28 citizens cars, in addition to 16 water wells, 10 farm valleys and 4 mosques were also destroyed during the bombings. By July, and according to UN reports an estimated 9500 IDPs fled their homes in search of safety from heavy shelling and air strikes. In August 6th, 40 people had been killed, 120 wounded and more than 15 abducted and in August 16th alone 40 more people were killed, 26 were civilians, of which 14 were women and children.

The grounds of Arhab villages are filled with missile fragments and corpses scattered in different parts. Many efforts by the tribesmen and members of the International Red Cross to remove the decomposing dead bodies were prevented due to the continuos agressive military operations. 

The endless shelling of the Republican guards have terrorized the district and turned their lives into a living nightmare. Electricity and water has been absent for over 2 months. Due to the continuos shelling, supply lines have aslo been disrupted causing many to go hungry and much of the fruits and vegetables produced in the village fields were left to rot. As many homes became uninhabitable, people started living in caves, similar to prehistoric times, which have been randomly fitted with only floor mattresses, sheets or blankets as furniture, obviously lacking basics running water, sanitation and electricity.

"What criminal would force old women and children to live like this, especially during the holy month of Ramadan," said Hail Mohamed Ali, who has taken refuge in a cave with her daughters and grandchildren. "All of Arhab is against the regime, and those that surprised it in the past curse their stupidity."
Government rhetoric blamed the violence on, as usual, "armed militant groups"whom they claim are based in the district to justify their killings, yet residents blame the government for this unwarranted aggression.

The villages in the town of Yahis close to the 62 Republican Guard camp is one of the most damaged areas from the ongoing violence.
Amidst endless shelling many residents who feel helpless, angry, fearful and anxious, wonder if their life would ever be calm again. "I don't understand how a few villages of farmers could deserve punishment like this," said Saddam Haizan, pointing to his leg which was amputated below the knee after he was injured when a missile hit his home. "I just pray to God that this hell eventually ends."

Despite thier misery the children of Arhab still manage to put a smile on thier faces. Don't these innocent children deserve to live a peaceful and normal life like our children enjoy? Why should they be paying such a price for a conflict they were fatefully caught into?
Tribal leaders launched an appeal to the media and humanitarian organization to visit their villages and document the crimes committed daily against civilians and to expose to the international community the brutality of the Yemeni regime. 
If you read this posting and are a public figure or work in the media or a humanitarian organization, please help the villagers of Arhab and Nehm by shedding some light on their humanitarian crisis which is ongoing yet seems to be overlooked or ignored. 
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