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A front-line city in Yemen is desperate for change after nearly a decade of civil war

Abdullah Saif Ahmed Numan and his grandson, Mohammad, stand in the building where they live in Al Dawah neighborhood of Taiz, Yemen. The neighborhood is on the frontline of a divided city in Yemen's civil war.
Claire Harbage
/
NPR
Abdullah Saif Ahmed Numan and his grandson, Mohammad, stand in the building where they live in Al Dawah neighborhood of Taiz, Yemen. The neighborhood is on the frontline of a divided city in Yemen's civil war.

TAIZ, Yemen — A grassy strip of no-man's land divides the city that's covered in bullet holes. Taiz, Yemen's third most populous city, is symbolic of the civil war that has ravaged the country for nearly a decade.

The war has destroyed millions of Yemeni lives, but perhaps nowhere has it been felt more than in the front-line neighborhoods in Taiz that are closest to the fighting and have seen the worst of the war.

Snipers have terrorized residents for years. Many children have lost limbs due to rockets and landmines, while playing outside.

The view out of the window of a residential building in Al Dawah the building has been damaged by shelling and gunshots in this front-line neighborhood.
Claire Harbage / NPR
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NPR
The view out of the window of a residential building in Al Dawah the building has been damaged by shelling and gunshots in this front-line neighborhood.

"I don't play with my friends outside, I sit at home," said 9- year-old Mohammad Abdulrahman al-Yusufi, who is about as old as the war itself, and lost his father in a rocket attack by Houthi militants.

"I want the war to end, so life can come back here. They destroyed all the homes, they destroyed everything," he said.

In 2015, the Iran-backed Houthi militia took over the north and west of Taiz with the rest of the city under the control of the Yemeni government, backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Two members of the military in Taiz walk down a road that is often targeted by snipers from the Houthi side of the city. A thin curtain currently protects the road from the view of the snipers.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Two members of the military in Taiz walk down a road that is often targeted by snipers from the Houthi side of the city. A thin curtain currently protects the road from the view of the snipers.

The Houthi blockade severely disrupted the lives of people here. Distances that used to take 10–15 minutes by car are now an 8-hour drive on precarious mountain roads, as nearly all of the direct routes have been cut off. This has impeded the flow of food and medicine and other necessities to the city, driven prices up and further disrupted a failing economy.

The areas of Taiz under Houthi control have most of the city's water resources as well as the factories and jobs.

Several residential buildings were also hit by Saudi airstrikes in the first years of the war, killing many civilians — which led the U.S. to take a step back from providing military and intelligence support to Saudi Arabia.

A woman stands near the frontlines of the city of Taiz where The internationally recognized government controls one side, and the Houthis control the other.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
A woman stands near the front lines of the city of Taiz where The internationally recognized government controls one side, and the Houthis control the other.
This woman shows her foot where she was hit by a Houthi sniper while walking one day. She's had to walk that same path every day in order to get her business done. "I do it in fear every time. I haven't felt safe for a moment since the war began, but I have no means to move to a safer place," she said.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
This woman shows her foot where she was hit by a Houthi sniper while walking one day. She's had to walk that same path every day in order to get her business done. "I do it in fear every time. I haven't felt safe for a moment since the war began, but I have no means to move to a safer place," she said.

In the last year, peace talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia have slowed down the fighting. The streets are mostly peaceful, but negotiations so far have failed to produce an agreement that would ease the Houthi siege of Taiz.

Families have been separated for years by the blockade. The shortage of water and food is further exacerbating malnutrition and dehydration in women and children.

The citizens of Taiz say they are at their wits end, desperate for change.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

A girl plays near the door to the building where she lives in Al Dawah. Many children have lost their limbs to landmines or been hit by snipers while playing outside.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
A girl plays near the door to the building where she lives in Al Dawah. Many children have lost their limbs to landmines or been hit by snipers while playing outside.
Aref Abdullah calls his daughters from the front door of his home in Al Dawah where he moved just a year ago because he couldn't afford rent at his previous home. His family is divide by the frontline just him and his wife live on the Yemeni government side while both of their parents and siblings are on the Houthi side of the war and they are unable to visit each.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Aref Abdullah calls his daughters from the front door of his home in Al Dawah where he moved just a year ago because he couldn't afford rent at his previous home. His family is divide by the front line just him and his wife live on the Yemeni government side while both of their parents and siblings are on the Houthi side of the war and they are unable to visit each.
Abdullah's daughter's shoes sit outside their home in Al Dawah. While the frontlines of Yemen's civil war are nearly on their doorstep, the family tries to go about their daily lives.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Abdullah's daughter's shoes sit outside their home in Al Dawah. While the front lines of Yemen's civil war are nearly on their doorstep, the family tries to go about their daily lives.
Bashaer Ameen Ali, Abdullah's wife, is in pain from a c-section she had giving birth to their fourth daughter just 15 days ago. She says she wishes her mother could be there to help but her mother lives in a Houthi controlled area and can't visit. "I have no one but my husband," she says. "We are completely cut off from our family and friends. I have not seen them in eight years."
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Bashaer Ameen Ali, Abdullah's wife, is in pain from a c-section she had giving birth to their fourth daughter just 15 days ago. She says she wishes her mother could be there to help but her mother lives in a Houthi controlled area and can't visit. "I have no one but my husband," she says. "We are completely cut off from our family and friends. I have not seen them in eight years."
Abdullah and two of his daughters stand outside of their home in Al Dawah.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Abdullah and two of his daughters stand outside of their home in Al Dawah.
A car and building are riddled with bullet holes in Al Dawah neighborhood. And trash piles up around the neglected car. Services in this area are non-existent though people continue to live here.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
A car and building are riddled with bullet holes in Al Dawah neighborhood. And trash piles up around the neglected car. Services in this area are non-existent though people continue to live here.
Abdullah Saif Ahmed Numan gathers laundry in his home. Nearly all of the windows are broken and he says snipers can see in from the other side of the frontline.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Abdullah Saif Ahmed Numan gathers laundry in his home. Nearly all of the windows are broken and he says snipers can see in from the other side of the front line.
A tv remains mounted on the wall in Numan's home, with bullet holes and cracks.
Claire Harbage / NPR
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NPR
A tv remains mounted on the wall in Numan's home, with bullet holes and cracks.
Numan (right), stands looking out of the hole in his building where it was struck by a rocket.
Claire Harbage / NPR
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NPR
Numan (right), stands looking out of the hole in his building where it was struck by a rocket.
Nimah Said Ahmed Numan, Numan's sister, drags a jug of water to her home in a makeshift sled in Al Dawah. People have to collect water from tanks set out by aid organizations or paid for by private donors, the city doesn't provide water to front-line neighborhoods.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Nimah Said Ahmed Numan, Numan's sister, drags a jug of water to her home in a makeshift sled in Al Dawah. People have to collect water from tanks set out by aid organizations or paid for by private donors, the city doesn't provide water to front-line neighborhoods.
A hole in the roof of a building where neighbors say a missile struck.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
A hole in the roof of a building where neighbors say a missile struck.
Ahmed Hameed Al Yusufi looks out the window of his building in Al Dawah. His roof has been destroyed by shelling and he's used tarps to try and cover it along with buckets across the room to catch any water that comes through.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Ahmed Hameed Al Yusufi looks out the window of his building in Al Dawah. His roof has been destroyed by shelling and he's used tarps to try and cover it along with buckets across the room to catch any water that comes through.
A view of the city of Taiz through a broken stained-glass window in Al Dawah.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
A view of the city of Taiz through a broken stained-glass window in Al Dawah.

Claire Harbage
Fatma Tanis
[Copyright 2024 NPR]