The Battle Over Yemen's Cultural Capital Continues

Letter from Taiz

Smoke billows from a burning fuel truck after it was set ablaze during clashes between Houthis and fighters of the Popular Resistance Committees in Yemen's southwestern city of Taiz, May 25, 2015. Reuters

One Tuesday night in the al-Shamasi neighborhood of Yemen’s southern city of Taiz, Khadija Naji, 32, watched over her three sons. They were sitting on the sidewalk near a school where she and several other families had been living after relentless fighting between the Houthi rebels and government forces had forced them to flee their homes. It was Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, and a neighbor was on his way with a hot meal so that Naji and her family could end a day of fasting. Then from out of the sky, a mortar shell whistled through the air and landed in front of the school. The blast killed Naji, her boys, and the neighbor who was bringing dinner.

The Houthis, rebels who seized Sana’a in September 2014 and forced President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to flee to the port city of Aden, control roughly 40 percent of Taiz’s outskirts. They are supported by forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president of Yemen who was ousted during the Arab Spring and whom Hadi replaced. The Houthis control all the roads in the outer areas of Taiz that lead into the city, except for a narrow pathway through the Taluq mountains that residents and fighters opposing the Houthis’ existence had built earlier this year. The control of the roads has enabled the Houthis to enforce a blockade, denying residents medical supplies, equipment, and sometimes food. Even worse, as Human Rights Watch noted in a 2015 report, Houthi rebels had “repeatedly fired mortar shells and artillery rockets indiscriminately into populated neighborhoods.”

Shell fragments in Taiz, June 15, 2015. Reuters

I arrived in Taiz just days before Naji was killed. Houthis have since shelled several residential areas in the strip of land close to Houthi militia–controlled areas, as well as public places such as the busy market of al-Bab al-Qadiem (the Old Gate) at the heart of the old town in the center of Taiz. It is located far from the frontlines near the

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