‘I would kill anyone. Even my own brother,’ Yemeni Fighter Said.


The camp did not feel like a refuge, in a parched patch of nowhere by a bare, black hill. There was nothing in the way of distractions for the displaced people sheltering in tents here, like a playground, a store, a cafe; nothing to prevent thoughts drifting to the war and the dead.

Three years had passed since his father was killed by Yemeni rebels known as the Houthis, but Azzam Shalif seethed at a memory still fresh. They had snatched his father, a teacher, from in front of his house. There had been long and tortured negotiations to reclaim the body. Then there was disbelief when his father, disfigured beyond recognition, was finally brought home.

Now Shalif, who fled to a government-controlled area, referred to the parts of Yemen dominated by the Houthis as “enemy” — a classification that included his home town and even his own relatives who had joined the rebels. “The enemy doesn’t understand the word dialogue,” he said when asked how the war might end.

“We have an enemy that doesn’t want any solution,” he said.

Such resentments have pooled in Marib, a pocket of relative, if uneasy, stability that has received tens of thousands of people fleeing battlefields across Yemen during more than three years of civil conflict.

The war has been defined by the terrible violence that the combatants have inflicted on civilians and by a humanitarian crisis called the most severe in the world. It has dark shades of a proxy struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and has caused rising consternation in foreign capitals, including Washington, where a group of lawmakers last week condemned the Trump administration’s own involvement in a ruinous conflict by providing military and intelligence assistance to the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis.

The strains on Yemeni society have been less apparent — the divisions and antipathies that will make it difficult for people to live together again even if the armies stop.

A trip to Marib for journalists this month was organized by the Saudi military, which hoped to showcase what the Saudi government says are its effort to provide aid and financial assistance to Yemen. The trip was also intended to blunt a resilient criticism: that the Saudi-led military coalition backing Yemen’s government bears much of the responsibility for the humanitarian disaster because of its imposition of an air, sea and land blockade.

Yemen’s cities have been scarred or destroyed by Saudi airstrikes or Houthi shelling. But a building boom is underway in Marib city, the capital of Marib province, and there is regular electricity and plenty of fuel. Restaurants have opened and classes are full at the local university. A well-stocked hospital is one of the few able to operate normally in the entire country.

Abd-Rabbo Moftah, the deputy governor, said Marib had “benefited” as Yemenis, including business executives, had flocked to the city and invested there. Others who were displaced found jobs in construction. Together, “they feel they are part of the city,” he said.

But the calm could be deceptive.

Rockets still fall on the city, fired from static front lines a few dozen miles away. A rebel ambush recently destroyed a truck traveling on the highway on the city’s outskirts. The pressures weighing on Marib’s new arrivals were unmistakable: the wrenching separation from families and homes and the hardening animus toward fellow Yemenis who happened to be on the other side of the conflict.

Omran Ammar, a baby-faced soldier guarding a front-line position on a mountaintop overlooking rebel-held territory, said he had been at the same post for about two years, since he was 18 years old. A few times since the war began, he had managed to travel home, across the front lines into rebel territory. But he was happiest at the front, he said, while offering to show reporters decaying corpses of rebel fighters.

He had come from a family of farmers, but now all fought on the government’s side. His duty, as Ammar saw it, was “defending my religion, my honor” from the rebels. To that end, “I would kill anyone,” he said. “Even my own brother.”

Badr Sharif, 30, stood nearby as the soldier spoke. “We feel sorry. We don’t want to be in this situation. But what can you do?” he said. Sharif, who was studying oil and gas management overseas before the war, now accompanied his brother, a Yemeni official, on his regular visits to the front line.

 

 

 

Read full article by Kareem Fahim on The Washington Post, March 26, 2018.


Comments

Add Comment