SANA’A — Clashes between armed insurgents and Yemeni government forces have compelled three universities and all schools in the capital to shut down their doors until further notice.
The government and Houthi militants, members of a Shiite sect distinctive to Yemen, have been fighting since 2005. The Houthis have been battling to seize northern areas and lately have been capturing more territory. On September 16, Sana’a witnessed a type of chaos not seen since 2011, as the rebels called for the government to step down. The capital has been rocked by shelling and gunfire as Houthi militias arrived from Saada, the northernmost governorate of Yemen, and seized control of strategic posts, including many government buildings and the home of a military commander.
Educational institutions were also caught in the crossfire. A mortar round fell inside the grounds of the Sana’a University next to professors’ residences. Losses were limited to material damage without civilian casualties. But the university, which is the oldest and largest university in Yemen, was shuttered.
“We have decided to stop all classes to protect students’ and professors’ lives.” said Abdul Hakim Shargabi, the president of the university. Shargabi blamed all conflicting parties for the situation. “All are responsible for every drop of blood, all of the damages and for the postponement of the academic year.”
Al-Eman University, in northwestern Sana’a, was closed also as Houthi militias were trying to control a hill located opposite the university and the army deployed around and inside the university, according to a Yemen news agency.
In anticipation of any danger, the University of Science and Technology decided to suspend its classes until the holiday of Eid Al Adha, during the second week of October. Meanwhile, the ministry of education announced the suspension of classes in all schools in the city until further notice.
Yemeni officials estimate that 200 civilians and soldiers have died and 461 people have been injured in the recent clashes.
“I demand all political forces and parties choose their battlegrounds far away from schools, universities and residential areas,” said Ali Bureihi, the deputy dean of the information faculty at the Sana’a University. “They have sowed fear and panic among the students, teachers and parents. Many are afraid to come back to classes now.”
On September 21, a U.N.-brokered peace deal between Houthi militias and Yemen’s government was signed.
Nevertheless, political stability does not seem likely and many students have bad memories of the latest conflicts. “It was a horrible day,’ said Ibtisam Abdulla, a second-year student at the faculty of arts in Sana’a University. “ My mobile was on silent, so I did not notice my families’ several calls. When I went out, I found my parents standing close to the university gate. We all ran away out of fear.”
Panic struck professors’ hearts also. “We were so worried about our colleagues in the housing building,” said Tariq Al Aghbari, a professor at the college of agriculture in Sana’a University. “They were forced to leave to some of their relatives’ homes in the city. Many also went back to their villages out of fear of continued violence.”
Muhammad Al Jameme, a fourth-year student in the faculty of commerce, has already returned to his family’s village of Dhamar, 120 kilometers south of Sana’a. “The situation is no longer safe there. They even targeted the university. Nothing can be taken for granted even after signing the peace agreement, because arms are still widespread everywhere.”
Salwa, a first-year student at medical college, showed even stronger fears. “My family has prevented me from going to my college even before it shut down as it is located in a hot area. After the recent clashes, I doubt they will allow me to go there again.”