Pakistan evacuates 502 citizens from Yemen
Shujaat Azeem, aviation advisor to the prime minister, said the PIA flight carrying 503 passengers from Hodeidah had arrived in Karachi.
Live television footage showed the jubilant passengers being offered rose garlands and bunting of the Pakistani white and green flag as they emerged from the arrivals lounge of Jinnah International Airport.
Many people cried when they hugged each other and relatives of some passengers distributed sweets to those who had gathered to welcome the evacuees.
Passengers said they were happy to be home and thanked the government amid slogans of “Long live Pakistan”, “Long live prime minister” and “Long live PIA.”
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said there were still up to 250 Pakistanis in the port town of Mukalla, which was peaceful, with officials trying to ascertain how many want to be evacuated from nearby Riyan airport.
She said fighting was going on in the southern government stronghold of Aden where up to 200 Pakistanis were stranded as the airport was not accessible but the port was open.
“Our navy ship on its way to Aden. We are also coordinating with the Chinese,” Aslam said.
The first batch of Pakistanis was evacuated as Saudi-led air strikes hammered Shiite Huthi rebel targets.
Ahmed Assiri, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, confirmed to reporters in Riyadh that coalition forces had “ensured a safe corridor” by suspending operations around Hodeidah airport for a few hours to allow Pakistan “to evacuate its citizens”.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was personally monitoring the evacuation and had directed officials to ensure the safe return of every citizen, a spokesman of Sharif’s office said.
A second, smaller plane with a capacity of 230 passengers was also being kept on stand by in Pakistan, PIA spokesman Hanif Rana told AFP.
PIA pilot Khalid Amin said he did not hear any bombing or gunfire at Hodeidah airport.
“The crew flew voluntarily to Yemen despite made aware about the dangers of flying into conflict zone, but everybody wanted to be onboard with national fervour,” Amin told reporters.
Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry had said Saturday around 3,000 Pakistanis lived in Yemen with some 1,000 trying to leave the country.
Restating Islamabad’s staunch support for the Gulf kingdom, Chaudhry said a delegation would soon leave for Riyadh, but rejected reports that Pakistan would join the Saudi-led coalition bombing mission.
Pakistan is a longstanding ally of Saudi Arabia with close military ties, but Islamabad has not yet committed to the operation, which has drawn strong criticism from its neighbour Iran, the major Shiite Muslim power.