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Yemeni Fears for Sanaa Old City Exacerbate as Houthis Seek Hezbollah-Styled Stronghold

Yemeni Fears for Sanaa Old City Exacerbate as Houthis Seek Hezbollah-Styled Stronghold

Monday, 3 May, 2021 - 07:30
General view of the Old City of Sanaa, Yemen (EPA)

Yemen’s world heritage site, the Old City of Sanaa, is under increasing threat of being carved out into an exclusive stronghold for Iran-backed Houthi militias and molded into an epicenter for sectarianism in the war-torn country, warned Sanaa-based Yemeni sources.


Houthis have been actively suppressing journalists and press freedoms in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, they added.


Last month, a documentarian was banned from entering the Old City to film a special covering the early days of Ramadan 2021. Despite working for a pro-Iran broadcaster, they were turned away by Houthi intelligence officers in civilian clothing.


The officers said there were official orders to stop the taping at the UNESCO-recognized historical area and advised the photographer to go elsewhere for their report.


Another similar incident was reported later in which Houthi patrolmen dispatched across the Old City’s alleyways had detained a young photographer who was taking pictures of shops and buildings in the area.


Even though they were released after their relative pulled some strings, the tight security monitoring and the crackdown on media access gave rise to concerns about Houthis having other plans for the cultural neighborhood.


“For a while, we’ve been noticing signs of transforming the Old City of Sanaa into a sectarian canton comparable to the Hezbollah stronghold in the Lebanese capital’s Dahieh suburb,” Sanaa-based sources, who requested anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat.


While the content of the daily pictures flowing out of Sanaa might not be directly regulated by Houthi militias, the group keeps a log of all the information about photographers and journalists working in the capital.


“Houthi security units can easily reach any photojournalist or correspondent whenever the group sees necessary,” a logistics agent working for Sanaa-based media companies told Asharq Al-Awsat.


Moreover, Iran’s ambassador to Sanaa Hassan Eyrlou has started work for closing off the Old City completely, sources warned, adding that Houthis are likely looking to move their control center there.


Before launching a nationwide coup in 2014, Houthi presence in Sanaa was mainly concentrated in the Geraf neighborhood near the Sanaa International Airport.


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