In six years, the first commercial flight took off from Yemen’s rebel-held capital Sanaa on May 16, officials said. The Yemen Airways flight, with 151 passengers on board, was bound for Jordan’s capital of Amman, according to media outlets run by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Earlier, the plane had arrived in Sanaa from the southern port city of Aden to pick up the passengers. On touchdown, it was welcomed by a ceremonial water salute. The U.N. Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, hailed what he described as ‘constructive cooperation’ of the Yemeni government.

“This should be a moment of coming together to do more, to start repairing what the war has broken,” he said in a statement. He urged both parties to implement all truce commitments and ‘move towards resuming a political process to sustainably end the conflict.’ On May 18, Yemen Airways announced another flight from Sanaa to Amman and a return one to the Yemeni capital. The flight is part of the U.N.-brokered, 60-day truce agreement that the internationally recognised government and the Houthi rebels struck last month.

The truce, which went into effect on April 2, is the first nationwide cease-fire in Yemen in six years. The truce accord calls for two commercial flights a week to and from Sanaa to Jordan and Egypt. The Houthi-held Sanaa is blockaded by the Saudi-led coalition, which backs the internationally recognised government.

The closure of the airport has inflicted major economic and humanitarian damage. Thousands of people had lost their jobs as businesses providing services closed down or suffered heavy losses.

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Before the blockade, the Sanaa airport had an estimated 6,000 passengers a day, and more than 2 million passengers every year, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, an international charity working in Yemen.

The flight was initially due to take off on April 2 but a dispute over passports issued by the Houthis had delayed the departure date. This time, the internationally recognized government allowed passengers with Houthi-issued documents to board the flight. The government-run SABA news agency said last week that new Yemeni passports would be issued in Jordan for those arriving with Houthi-issued travel documents.

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Erin Hutchinson, Yemen director at the Norwegian Refugee Council, said the take-off of the first flight was a ‘stepping stone towards a lasting peace for Yemen.’ “The long-overdue reopening of the airport was one of the major objectives of the truce,” she said, urging warring parties to work towards implementing other elements of the deal, including reopening of roads around Taiz and other provinces.

Taiz, which remains partially held by the forces fighting on behalf of the government, has been blockaded by the Houthis since 2016. The U.N. Envoy met last month with the government delegation to prepare for meetings on reopening roads in Taiz and other provinces. The Houthis have yet to name their delegation to the road-reopening meeting, raising concerns about their commitment to lifting the blockade.

(With inputs from AP)

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