Bombings, war, disease as Yemen marks start of Ramzan


War-torn Yemen began marking the Muslim fasting month of Ramzan Thursday after a wave of Islamic State group bombings, with little hope of a ceasefire and a worsening humanitarian situation.

The five simultaneous bombings targeting Shia mosques and offices in the capital late Wednesday killed at least 31 people and wounded dozens, medics and witnesses said.

Apparently timed to coincide with sunset prayers when worshippers flocked to mosques to mark the eve of Ramzan, the bombings were claimed by IS as “revenge” against Shia Houthi rebels who have been battling pro-government forces for months.

The conflict has cast a pall in Yemen over this year’s Ramzan, which is observed by more than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide who believe the Quran was revealed to their Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) during this month in the western Saudi city of Makkah in 610 AD.

During the holy month, believers abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex from dawn until sunset, when they break their fast with an elaborate meal known as Iftar.

The Iftar will be a luxury this year in Yemen, where the UN says a “catastrophic” humanitarian crisis has left 80 per cent of the population — 20 million people — in need of aid.

The rebels, considered by IS as heretics, have overrun much of the Sunni-majority country and, along with their allies among forces loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have been the target of Saudi-led air strikes since March.

UN-brokered talks between the warring parties are stalling in Geneva, after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon launched negotiations on Monday with a plea for a Ramzan truce.

The humanitarian situation is particularly dire in the southern port city of Aden, battered by nearly three months of air strikes and fighting.

Empty supermarket shelves’:

Aden was struck by more air strikes at dawn while fighting raged between the rebels and forces loyal to exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, witnesses said.

The city’s streets, usually busy for Ramzan with shoppers, were empty.

“It’s the first time we don’t feel happy that Ramzan has begun,” said Aden resident Abdulrahman Anis.

“We haven’t received salaries since the crisis began in March,” said the employee at a local newspaper.

“Food supplies are thin and triple the usual prices. Supermarket shelves are completely empty,” he said.

The health situation is also deteriorating, with diseases such as malaria, typhoid and dengue fever spreading fast across Aden, where dead bodies are left on the streets for days amid intense fighting.

“Every day we receive between 90 and 100 patients infected by dengue fever,” said Marwa Marwan, a doctor at the emergency department of Aden’s Al-Breihi hospital.

She said 10-15 people die from dengue each day due to the lack of medicine to treat them.

The UN’s Ban pleaded with the warring sides this week to observe a “humanitarian pause for at least two weeks” to coincide with the start of Ramzan.

With an overall truce unlikely, a source close to the UN-sponsored talks in Geneva said warring parties would discuss on Thursday the possibility of striking localised ceasefires.

Yemen’s war has killed more than 2,500 people since March, according to UN estimates.

Across the border in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Ramzan shoppers complained of steep consumer prices as the holy month got underway.

“In Ramzan the prices are higher,” said Mohamed Ahmed Hajouli as he stood in front of a stall with a colourful display of chillies, green peppers, courgettes and aubergines at Riyadh’s Otaiga Market.

“Some things that were five riyals ($1.33) before are 10 now.”