Crossing the road past what residents call “The Great Wall of Hasaba” – a mound of sandbags blocking the road and warning passersby they are entering a war zone, stand big buildings scarred by bullets, shells and the wounds inflicted over months of conflict.
Passing the wall into Hasaba, people on the “safe side” shout warnings to turn back – it just too dangerous. Once in Hasaba, you can barely find residents. Those that are walking in the streets are mostly armed tribes, wearing their long Zannas – now a dirty white – guns slung across their backs, or located behind the sandbags with their weapons ready.
Despite Ali Abdullah Saleh’s signature on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative last month, clashes continue in Hasaba, where tribal figures of the Hashid Confederation, the biggest tribal confederation in Yemen, have fought the state since late May. The first round of fighting lasted almost 16 days before a truce was agreed. However, it was not implemented by either side and the conflict has been ongoing since.
Residents have repeatedly abandoned their homes and fled the fighting, only to return and be forced to leave again.
The children that remain in Hasaba have learned how to hide when the shooting starts, though they also collect the shells and bullets they find. A father told his eight-year-old son to bring the spent shells he had been playing with while his six-year-old daughter displayed the bullets she collects. “My children are like any others in this area, they have come to know the differences between the weapons since the clashes started. They are experts,” he said, making fun of the situation.
Small steps towards stability have been taken since the Gulf deal was signed in November 23, following ten months of protests and public calls for an end to Saleh’s regime of more than three decades. Vice President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi is now the acting president according to the GCC initiative and has named the new prime minister as well as calling for early elections on February 21 – an election where he will be the sole candidate of both the ruling General People’s Congress and the opposition Joint Meeting Parties coalition.
Since the GCC, a number of Hasaba residents, who had escaped to their villages or other safer areas in the capital returned to their homes.
“After the GCC deal was signed I thought things would improve, therefore I brought my family back, but now I realize it will never improve and I am taking them back to the rented house I sent them to before,” said a resident, in the process of filling a taxi with his family and their belongings for the third time.
Mohammed Khalil, Frist Armored Division Brigadier General based in Hasaba, has his troops spread around the area to “protect public buildings”, while the troops and tribesmen await orders to leave Hasaba. Some say they will go once the military committee, formed this week, begins removing arms and troops from cities, other say they will go after the elections in February.
Hasaba’s residents are also waiting for those orders so that they can feel safe and return to their homes.
The war never seems to end or to have a reason to continue; no one seems to care about civilians, according to residents, Amal and Ahlam, who did not want to give their full names for security reasons. They live near the old headquarters of the General People’s Congress, which was severely damaged during the first round of war. When the Yemen Times met them, Amal and Ahlam had only returned to get the rest of their belongings and were not moving back to their home, despite the GCC deal.
“Our house was shelled by both sides, both Al-Ahmers and the state shelled our house as they thought our neighbors were armed, but we were the least damaged,” said Ahlam.
Some of their neighbor’s homes had damage from RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades), and you can clearly see the path of the bullets and blasts going from one side of the wall to the other.
In the house next door, a pregnant woman was lying, exhausted in a room also damaged by shelling, while her mother-in-law said: “This is how we live,” indicating the hard life they lead in the damaged house that they only got. “We are four families and when they are shelling we all have to sleep downstairs in the same room to stay safe.”
A glimpse of normality
Life seemed to resume to some extent in Hasaba after the Gulf deal was signed in Riyadh because people were optimistic they would be safer, even though Al-Ahmer tribes in the area did not sign the accord.
However, the militant tribesmen occupying buildings in Hasaba claimed that Shiekh Sadeq Al-Hamer pays rent to the building’s owner so that his men can stay, giving an even more permanent air to the situation.
“We are not leaving the area until the new government is formed “ said one of the tribesmen. “We came all the way to Sana’a from Amran a month ago, we are not leaving until we make sure the GCC is implemented.”