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Yemen’s Mukalla Airport Reopens with Aid Flight after Qaeda Withdrawal | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Fire and smoke billows from an army weapons depot after it was hit by an air strike in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, May 11, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

The airport at the Yemeni coastal city of Mukalla has reopened after the government and Emirati soldiers rescued it in April from a year-long occupation by al Qaeda, local officials said.

Officials said that the first flight that landed on Sunday was a plane carrying relief supplies from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The consignment was carrying 20 tons of medicines and medical accessories from the UAE Red Crescent, the UAE said.

A year ago, the southeastern town’s Riyan airport froze regular services when al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), seen as one of the most powerful branches of the global militant group, took over the town and made it the center of a rich mini-state along the Arabian Sea coastline.

Exploiting the chaos of a civil war that broke out in 2015 between government loyalists and Houthi rebels, AQAP earned an estimated $2 million a day in revenue from port taxes and fuel smuggling in Mukalla, a city of about 500,000.

Around 2,000 Yemeni and Emirati troops advanced into Mukalla in the last week of April, taking control of its maritime port and airport and meeting little resistance. Al Qaeda said it withdrew to save the city from destruction.

Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in Yemen in March last year, fighting in support of Yemen’s government and to keep the Iran-allied Houthi group from taking over the country.

There has been mounting international pressure to end the Yemen conflict that the United Nations estimates has killed more than 6,400 people and displaced more than 2.8 million people since March last year.

The U.N. special envoy to Yemen on Monday called on the country’s warring parties to make concessions to save peace talks, which began on April 21, aimed at ending the devastating war.

The appeal by Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed came after face-to-face talks broke off with the government delegation complaining of a lack of progress and the Houthi rebels objecting about air raids by the Saudi-led Arab coalition.

Yemen’s foreign minister said the talks made no headway since their beginning.

“For the sake of peace, we have accepted all proposals submitted to us in order to progress,” said Abdulmalek al-Mikhlafi, who heads the government delegation.

“But after three weeks, we have nothing in our hands because the other party backed down on its commitments,” Mikhlafi wrote on Twitter.