Tribune News Service
New Delhi, April 3
The central government created an ‘air-bridge’ between Yemen’s Sanaa and Djibouti in northeastern Africa on Friday after getting permission to fly two Air India A-320 planes into the Yemeni capital in a bid to evacuate Indian nationals stranded in the strife-torn land.
The first of the sorties carrying 173 people landed in Djibouti around 4. 30 pm (Indian Time) on Friday.
Those coming from Sanaa and landing in Djibouti will fly to India on board Indian Air Force strategic lifters, the C-17 or be put on two passenger ships MV Kavaratti and MV Corals that will reach Djibouti on Saturday morning. An Air India Boeing 777 with a capacity of some 400 has reached Djibouti to augment to evacuation.
The two AI-320’s will shuttle between Sanaa and Djibouti — a journey that takes an hour or so — twice on Friday. Djibouti, which has a French and US Naval air base, is located on the northeast coast of Africa and is separated from Yemen by a narrow strait, the Bab-El-Mandeb.
Nearly 3,000 Indians are currently stranded in Yemen. The decision to fly them out to Djibouti was taken after there was no assurance of safety of road routes to reach the two available ports — Aden, some 434 kms long road journey away and on the coast of Gulf of Aden or the port city of Al Hodeidah on the West coast of Yemen on the Red Sea coast which is at a three-hour drive from the capital. The territory between Sanaa and the two ports is being held by Houthi rebels.
Air India had sent two 180-seater Airbus A320 planes to Muscat on March 30 for evacuation from Sanaa but were not given clearance to fly. Saudi Arabian authorities, who control the airspace over the capital, gave a nod to fly on Friday.
Yemen is currently witnessing a civil war, with Saudi-led coalition forces conducting airstrikes to push back Houthi rebels, who threaten to run over the country. Several countries, including China, have already begun to evacuate their citizens from the strife-torn land. Saudi Arabia says it has support from four other Gulf Arab states as well as Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan and Pakistan, though it has not spelt out the support they have provided.
Since Tuesday The Indian Navy warship, the INS Sumitra has carried out two evacuations of 349 and 306 people from Aden and Al Hodeidah, respectively, amid bombings in the two cities. Two Indian Navy warships, the INS Mumbai, a destroyer, and the INS Tarkash will reach along the two passenger liners.
According to IAF officials, the first movement of around 550 Indians out of Sana’a is tasked to two Air India aircraft
Minister of State in External Affairs Ministry V K Singh is in Djibouti to oversee the evacuation operation.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin tweeted: "1st air evacuation from Yemen successful. 2 Air India flights evacuate a total of 351 Indians from Sana'a to Djibouti." He also tweeted a photo of the 306 Indians who have arrived in Djibouti for being flown back to India. "Relief. Indians evacuated by INS Sumitra from Al Hodeidah now in Djibouti enroute to their homes in India."
Separately, 35 Indian nationals crossed over from Yemen to Saudi Arabia and are now in Gizan, a port city near the Yemen border, he tweeted, adding that MEA officials are assisting them to return to India with the consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia tasked to help them out. On Thursday, another batch of 35 Indians had arrived in Djibouti aboard a cargo vessel from Aden.
In the latest development, Houthi forces pulled back from a central Aden district on Friday and warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition dropped weapons and medical aid to fighters defending the southern Yemeni city, a last symbolic foothold of the country's absent president.
The Shi'ite Houthi fighters and their allies withdrew from Crater neighbourhood as well as one of Aden's presidential residences which they seized a day earlier, residents and a local official said.
Their withdrawal followed overnight clashes and an air strike on the presidential palace at Ma'ashiq, overlooking Crater. — With inputs from agenices
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