By Eman Hannah
Dec. 25, 2018
We are still here in Taiz besieged by the Houthi militia. The signs of destruction are everywhere. We started from Al-Thawra Hospital in Asifra and the governorate building to the martyrs' tombs, then Taiz University and the archaeological museum that were bombed by Houthis.
The car moved at full speed for fear of being shelled. On the various roads we passed, there were iron barriers and dirt barriers separating the Houthi areas from other areas. We learned from our escorts that the hottest contact areas with the Houthi militias are Al-Tashreefat, Lozan, Al-Shaab palace, Al-Shaqb in Mount Sabra, Al-Qreefat, and Tabet el Selal, which is a mountain chain embracing the valley below, where the heroic popular resistance of the people of Taiz is located.
In Taiz, the role of Yemeni women is evident. They insist on joining the ranks of the resistance in many ways. They are nurses treating the wounded in Al-Thawra Hospital under indiscriminate bombardment. They established the Mother of Martyrs Association, which includes hundreds of mothers in Taiz to demand the rights of the martyrs.
Here there are dozens of stories heroines from Taiz. This is Dalia Mohammed Abdullah, whom we met. When you first meet her, sadness appears on her face while talking about what she had gone through. She told us: "I was supposed to become a doctor. I graduated of the Faculty of Medicine before the war started. I completed the ravel procedures to Egypt to become an intern doctor. I had started my intern period in government hospitals here”.
“The 2015 events started. Houthi and Saleh militias invaded Yemen with their military equipment and tanks. We demonstrated peacefully on 20/3/2015, and we marched to the Central Security Camp to protest and the militias prevented us from crossing to the city of Aden south of Yemen. We continued the sit-in till 24/3/2015, when the sit-ins turned to violent clashes. I was among the crew of paramedics there, and on this day I was sprayed with water and tear gas, causing severe pain in my eyes. As a result I was taken to the hospital and I stayed there until the afternoon when I felt that my condition had improved, so I went out to join the protesters again.”
Dalua continued, “The 25th of March 2015 was a turning point. The criminal militias started using live bullets and tear gas heavily, but we continued resisting. The militias used weapons violently and directly. At 9 am, the first civilian martyr fell. He was the owner of a street cart selling blueberry juice. I tried with those in the areas of engagement to rescue him and we transferred him to a nearby hospital. Afterwards the number of martyrs and wounded increased. I continued to work till 2 pm, and I moved with members of the resistance to the fighting fronts to continue rescuing the injured. The last person I rescued was shot with a bullet in the thigh, and while trying to rescue him I was followed to one of the alleys. Those who followed us tried to take the injured person. And there I was shot in the left eye and lost its vision.”
“As if that was not enough for the Houthis, but they pursued my family and within a month I lost 3 members of my family (my two nephews, and aunt), and month later I lost 3 cousins. We fled from our homes that were bombed by the militias. Also my sister’s house was detonated. Three months ago, my cousin was sniped in front of her three children. "We are living the bitterness of forced displacement, indiscriminate bombing, and pursuits. Only God can help us”, Dalia said.
The Suffering of Life in Taiz
Mansoura Mohammed, a resident of Al-Shaqab, talks about the hard life under the fire of the Houthis, as the degree of difficulty varies in the contact areas compared to the places relatively remote from engagement areas. She describes how the people dug trenches from the dirt "so we can walk in it in order to escape the bombing of the Houthis because we are in flashpoints, and when we need something necessary we wait till the night to go out hiding from the snipers of the militia on the mountains”. She adds: “Our life is very tiring. We can’t work and our children can’t learn.”
Bullets In The Houses
"Life under bombardment is difficult and bitter. You expect at any moment not only a missile hitting you or a shell falling on you, but you might be in your house and you get sniped." These words were spoken by Am Raafat Mubarak, who was shot in the abdomen and chest, although he didn’t leave his house. We met him while he was receiving treatment in a hospital, and he told us: “We rarely go out, just to get bread and the necessities. Even my children do not go out. We stay in the house for months. None of my children can work, and we can hardly live. We eat just bread for many days. Thank God for everything”.
Raafat completes his story in a tired voice: "One day we had dinner in the hall, with the windows’ glass closed. My house is in the third floor, but close to the mountains. After me and children ate the windows’ glass in the hall broke, and I was hit by a bullet in my abdomen”.
Life In Trenches
Badr Mahmoud from Taiz, summarizes the difficult living and humanitarian conditions in the contact areas. He says: “There are poor families stuck in the contact areas. They cannot even go out of the houses because they do not have the money. They cannot afford to pay for a taxi. They live in a real tragedy. I know families there that don’t even receive the aid because the Houthis either prevent or loot it”. He adds: “The families there tell us that they cannot go out. They say where to go? We are unable to pay the cost of transportation, and we cannot rent a single room? We have families and children. We prefer to die and not to see our children being bombed before our eyes if we try to get out of our homes."
In the area of Asifra near Al-Thawra hospital, there is a place surrounded by sorrows from each side. It is facing a number of popular houses on the mountain. These are the graves of martyrs. From there you can see the mountains used by the Houthis as sniper platforms. The place includes dozens of martyrs including recruits, and in the middle and left of it a large part devoted to the media professionals and human rights activists. Since the entry of the Houthis to Taiz, the media professionals suffered a wave of violations (killing and injury and torture). Forty eight media professionals and journalists were the victims of this, according to statistics of the Centre for Human Rights and Development in Taiz from 2015 to 2018. While the violations against media professionals for the same period in Yemen in general, amounted to 2101 cases, according to statistics of the National Organization of Yemeni Media.
Since we entered the place, we have received alerts to quickly accomplish our mission because the Houthis are also bombing these graves to the extent that even the families cannot visit the graves of their loved ones. They also pursue them with different weapons.
Najib Qahtani, the media spokesman in Taiz governorate, tells us that Asifra graves were established since the Houthi attack on the city in 2015. It has about 3,000 martyrs. There are cemeteries in other areas of Taiz, but Asifra is the biggest and it has the largest number of media professionals. According to the governorates’ statistics the Houthis have killed 5 thousand persons and injured 21 thousand, since the beginning of the war till March 2018. Every day civilians are killed and wounded, including children and women.
Amena: They Killed Our Children
Inside the cemeteries, Amena Yehya, the mother of martyr Mohammed, who was martyred in the battle of Al-Shaqab at the age of 17, found his grave in the eastern part of the martyrs' graves. She fought her fear and came to visit her son's grave. The Houthis with all their weapons could not prevent her from coming. We found her crying and as soon as she began to talk she started screaming and saying in her authentic Bedouin dialect: "The Houthis killed our children and destroyed our homes. They left nothing to us. My neighbour’s house was destroyed with her inside and they bombarded her in front of my eyes. We will get them out of here”.
Mother of Three Martyrs: I Was Shaken To My Core the Day My Three Sons Were Martyred
Among the names on the tombstones we found some names of students of the University of Taiz, who have played an important role in the resistance since the beginning of the war with the Houthis in 2015. They went out to defend their land leaving behind lectures, books and their dreams of the future. We noticed the names of three brothers, Jawad, Emad and Rashad Ali Hassan.
We asked about their family and we met their mother, Fatema Mohammad, who told us her story, “I had three sons. I dreamed of them getting married and having children. But since the Houthi militias entered, all the dreams have been shattered and turned into nightmares.”
She continued, “When our homes and our country were attacked, everyone wanted to join the resistance. My children left the university to liberate their country. My three sons were martyred. Emad was in the final year of the Faculty of Computer, and Jawad in the last year of the Faculty of Education, and Rashad was still a student in the second grade of the Faculty of Computer, and he wanted to become a computer engineer. Rashad was wounded in the battles to liberate Al-Askary in Taiz in mid-November 2016. A mine exploded and hit him; he went into coma, and remained in intensive care in Al-Roda hospital until his death. His brother, Jawad, was already martyred in the battles of Jabal Jarrah in 2015. Amena talked about her last meeting with her son Rashad, “The last time I told him I want to hug you again. He returned and hugged me, laughing and telling me that the victory is close.”
“I am not sad they are martyrs. I trilled when they were martyred. But I want to avenge. I loved them so much. But Yemen deserves everything,” she spoke, crying.
Student of Fine Arts Martyred
Martyr Mushtaq al-Ammari was a student at the Faculty of Arts. Khadija Abdul Malek, head of the martyr association, talks about him saying that he painted pictures of the martyrs, including her son Mohammed Ezzedine. Mushtaq died when he went to document the military progress of the youth; an explosive device exploded and he died instantly.
Martyr Reham Badr
On a marble plaque you find the name of "Reham Badr" among dozens of names we found in the graveyard. Her friend, Ishraq al-Maqtari—who was with her when she died—said, “Reham was martyred on the eighth of last February, with a shell from the eastern front in the area of Al-Karifat. During the war years, the martyr was active in the humanitarian field, besides her human rights activities. She was known for helping displaced people in the confrontation areas in Taiz. She provided them with food and living necessities by coordinating with several organizations and volunteers. She also provided humanitarian and relief support to tens of war-affected families in Taiz.
Ishraq continues: "Reham’s death was very painful. She was a very noble person who faced the hell of war. She could have avoided death, but she decided to stand by the suffering people who were the target of war. And despite being a graduate of the English Department of the Faculty of Art, humanitarian work was at the forefront of her life. She was a member of the Sub-Committee for Relief and the Local Network for Monitoring Violations.
Ishraq added: “She was documenting the names of civilian victims, collecting donations from benefactors, and helping the needy and the poor through distributing food or purchasing medicines. She was interested in the areas close to the clashes, and she was killed while leading an aid convoy to areas near the eastern front. She always said: I'm a woman; the snipers will not kill me, as I am not carrying arms. When she was in the area of Sala she was sniped by an anti-aircraft fired by Houthis concentrated in Al-Selal Mountain. This is another proof of Houthi’s violations of principles of humanity, and their breaking of all the international laws which criminalize attacks on civilians”.
Jihad Al-Barihi: Injured Three Times But Continues To Resist
Jihad Al-Barihi was among the resistance ranks in Taiz. He was injured three times in several battles with the Houthis. Jihad had dreams beyond limits. He decided to apply for a scholarship to study Turkish language abroad, but the Houthi's attack came to change his dreams. He told us: "We were students and graduates, taking our first steps to build our future. When the war broke out I left the dream and joined the resistance. I was hit by a sniper shot in the head, I lost my right eye in the area of Hod El-Ashraf, and then I was injured in another battle in my left hand while I was in Al-Tashreefat front. However, I did not think for a moment to retreat, but insisted more on resisting the saboteurs, who came to remove the smile from the face of the child and changed our life to death. So for the third time I went to the front and was shot in the right leg, which resulted in its amputation below the knee”. Jihad resumes his story, while looking bitterly to the injured parts of his body: "I have friends and colleagues since my childhood, the front gathered us, but we were separated by death. Many of them died in my hands, while I was screaming: we will avenge you. My childhood friends knew nothing about using arms but were forced to fight. Hope never left their faces until we buried them”.
The media had a fair share of the Houthis' brutality. In the martyrs' graves, we found the names of a number of photographers and journalists targeted by the Houthi snipers while performing their duties in uncovering Houthi crimes and conveying them to the world. This made us consider the file of Houthis' violation of the media, which included several forms. Dr. Abdul Baset Al-Qaadi, Undersecretary of the Yemeni Ministry of Information, said: "The Houthis fear anyone who reveals their crimes. Media professionals and photographers face the worst wave of persecution by these militias since 2015. The Yemeni National Media Organization has documented 20 types of violations in Yemen from 2015 to 2018, ranging between 22 murders, 30 cases of attempt murder, 141 cases of abduction, 33 injuries, as for torture and physical assault they amounted to 109 cases, in addition to 90 cases of persecution. Also 544 journalists were displaced as a result of the destruction of 54 press institutions. He added that the Houthis refuse any mediation or negotiation for the release of journalists in particular, because they consider them a trophy. Abdul Baset refers to the case of journalist Yousef Aglan who was arrested for a year and a half, and came out suffering from diseases and memory problems, in addition to problems in the back and ears.
He talked about the role of the ministry in defending journalists and media professionals, saying: “We discuss this issue in international forums and we present it at international conferences in Geneva, Brussels and Paris to call on the international community to pressure Houthis to release the abductees and stop attacking journalists. We do this in cooperation with the International Federation of Journalists, and the Federation of Arab Journalists. The issue was also been presented at the Human Rights Council in Switzerland, but Houthis do not pay any attention to the international community or entities that defend human rights.
Wael al-Absi, who was killed at the age of 27 years, was a photographer for the Yemen channel. He decided to leave his family in Aden since the outbreak of the war to come to Taiz in order to convey the truth. His friend Badr al-Din Mohammed told us that he was a person who loved fun and laughter. He was in love with a girl and proposed to her shortly before his death. His wedding was due the following month, but he was killed by the Houthis.
Among the media martyrs is Taqi al-Din al-Huthifi. His colleague Mohammed al-Haddadi told us that the martyr was in the second grade at the University of Taiz in the business administration department. He used to tell his colleagues in the department: I am Mahathir Mohammed. I will be Mahathir Muhammad of Yemen. I will improve the economic profile of my country”.
Al-Hadadi added that the martyr was covering the events sometimes to the Saudi news channel, and sometimes to other channels. This means that he was not contracted with a specific entity, he used to film and any channel that needed to cover a certain event would ask him. In mid-2016, on a Friday, he received a phone call informing him that there is a battle in the eastern front. Taqi al-Din went out with Walid al-Qudsi, the cameraman with Al-Yemen channel, to cover the events in the eastern front. After they finished filming in one of the buildings behind the front, the Houthis, shot them and they were all killed, except Walid Al-Qudsi who had his foot amputated.
Photojournalist Abdullah al-Qaderi was killed during his coverage of the field battles in the front of Qaniya in Albayda governorate. According to a medical source in Marib hospital, al- Qaderi died of wounds caused by a guided missile fired by the Houthis on the press delegation during the coverage of the battles. Al-Qaderi was one of the first journalists and photographers who have been reporting the battles since the coup began in 2015.
Martyr Painter, Mushtaq Al-Amari
Mushtaq Al-Amari, joined the group of martyrs who were killed by Houthi. He was studying fine arts at Taiz University. Among the pictures he painted was that of martyr Mohammed Ezzedine.
The martyr Uwab Al-Zubayri, was killed when an explosive device exploded while he was filming the military progress of Yemen's youth on the fronts.
Mother of A Martyr Establishes Guardians Of Blood Association
In continuation of the role of Yemeni women in the war and in confronting the Houthis, Dr. Khadija Abdul Malek formed the Association of Mothers of Martyrs or Guardians of Blood as they name it. The association includes in its membership more than 80% of the mothers of the martyrs. Dr. Khadija talks about the goals of the association: "It was formed three months ago because we want the rights of our children who were martyred, and this is the least thing to offer them. I am the mother of a 19-year-old martyr. He was a student in the third grade and the results of his exams were out after his martyrdom in 2016; he succeeded and graduated. He was with the popular resistance in the battles of Al-Shaqab, which are still going on till now. The last thing Mohamed said to me was pray for me to be a martyr mother”.
She continued: “After he was martyred, I found that martyrs didn’t get all of their rights, so I thought of gathering the mothers of martyrs in 22 directorates in Taiz. The most prominent of our demands is the allocation of salaries to the families of martyrs. Some of them left a widow or children. We also demand the numbering of civilian casualties, as there are undocumented victims”. She concludes by saying: “We will resist the Houthis to return the rights of the martyrs, and we will beat the Houthis for them”.
Taiz College Of Arts And The Museum Are A Military Area For The Houthis
In the vicinity of the martyrs’ graveyard, we found an area mostly destroyed, although the remains of some of the buildings suggest that it was an important area. It is the fourth area of Taiz as it is named. We approached the area, and found a building with a broken banner with only one word left: college. Inside the area we saw the destroyed furniture, the garbage and the remains of the demolition in every corner. We learned from the residents that it is the Faculty of Arts, Taiz University, and in its vicinity is the Children's Park, the Yemeni Central Bank, the Taiz Branch and the headquarters of the Security Directorate, all of which were also destroyed by the Houthis.
As for the Houthi attacks on the buildings of the University of Taiz, Dr. Mugeeb Musleh, a professor in the university, said:
“The University is one of the largest public universities in Yemen. It was founded with the Faculty of Education as a branch of the faculty of education in Sana'a University in 1985-1986. It became an independent university in 1995 and achieved a major progress until it included 8 colleges and 10 research centers”. He added that some of the faculties of the university witnessed an attack by the Houthis, including the Faculty of Arts, one of the first colleges founded, and also the Faculty of Medicine adjacent to one of the areas of contact with the Houthis which is the area of the People's Palace. The bullets left signs on the buildings. The militias looted part of the contents and the furniture was completely destroyed. However, the students of the destroyed colleges were transferred to the university headquarters in Habail Salman, and the university was able to complete the educational process and overcome the obstacles.
He added that the students of Taiz University have played a major role in the popular resistance since the Houthi attack in 2015 and they still participate. They believe in the importance of the national role in Taiz's battle and that they will win in the end.
This area also includes Taiz Museum, which is almost completely destroyed. What is left are only the museum sign, smashed windows, and parts of the top floor, besides the rubble and the surrounding debris. Hamoud Mohammed Shamsan, a member of the Popular Resistance and an eyewitness to the Houthis attack on the museum and its neighboring buildings, said that and this area was important because it had some buildings belonging to the University of Taiz, including the Faculty of Arts, which was used for some time by the Houthis as a place to store their weapons, and then they destroyed the buildings, and looted some of the property. They did the same thing in the National Museum, which had some antiquities dating back to 2000 years, very important manuscripts, and statues of the Apostolic State. Many tourists used to visit the museum, which was supported by the UNESCO.
When the Houthis entered the area, they sabotaged it and turned it into a military barracks for a year and a half. They stole the antiquities from it and left it destroyed and empty. After the popular resistance liberated the area, they managed to salvage some of the antiquities that the museum staff hid in the museum away from the Houthis' eyes. He added that the Houthis were not satisfied with what they did, but also destroyed the Imam's palace which was an important milestone in the governorate.
Children Of Taiz And Stories Of Indiscriminate Bombing
Children in Taiz also have a share of the heroic stories. It is enough that they live, play and walk to their schools every day under the bombardment. Mayada Oud, a student in the third preparatory grade, said, “Sometimes they bombard schools, and we feel afraid while going to school. The Houthis throw the shell at any time, and sometimes we hear the sound of the bombardment, so we run to hide. We know them and know that they do not love little children, and I wish they leave our country so we can live safely. I saw friends of mine die before my eyes.”
Rabia Mahgoub, in the first preparatory grade, says, “We hear the sound of bombardment all the time and we see people dying in front of us. One day we go to school and the other day we don’t.”
Sabri Adel said, “Last Friday I was playing with my cousin and my brother, we were hit by a shell and my brother died in the hospital. Now I am afraid that my cousin might die, as well.”
“I was playing with my friends in the school’s playground and a shell killed them all,” Salha Tafi, student in the fourth primary grade said. “I went to the hospital and I recovered, and now I stopped playing in the playground.”
The child, Omar Abdul Wahid, 12 years old, took off his clothes to show us his abdomen with shrapnel marks. He described the violation he was subjected to, saying, “I have shrapnel in my abdomen, and went to the hospital, but now I am ok. This is now normal, and many of us have scars in their bodies.”
Mohamad, 10, says, “I was going to the store to buy sweets, and then I heard the sound of bombardment and found my leg bleeding. I felt nothing afterwards. I woke up to find myself in Al-Thawra Hospital with my father. I asked him what’s wrong with my leg, and he told me that the Houthis hit me, but that I will be ok. I stayed for a long time for treatment, and I went out knowing that the Houthis can repeat what they did.”