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Houthis reopen gas station near Saudi Embassy.

Although the mayor is still trying to close Al-Qatoof's gas station, the Houthis are keeping a watchful eye and intervene if necessary.

Twelve years after being closed down, Ahmed Al-Qatoof's gas station is finally operating again--All thanks to the Houthis. Lying right next to the Saudi embassy on United Nations Street in the capital, the Mayor's Office has repeatedly prevented Al-Qatoof from operating his station due to security reasons.

"The gas station is near to the embassy and hence threatens it," Al-Qatoof was told each time he tried to reopen.

Al-Qatoof established his gas station in 1998 and it operated normally until 2002, when construction on a nearby bridge caused it to shut down. Ever since the new bridge was completed in 2004, he tried to reopen his gas station but without success.

When Al-Qatoof closed the station in 2002, the Mayor's Office was paying him YR50,000 (233$) per month in compensation. However, since 2004, he has not received a single riyal. Not only did he stop receiving financial support, Al-Qatoof says, but there have been active efforts on the part of the Mayor's Office to prevent his station from operating.

"The Mayor's Office destroyed the gas pumps of the station more than one time," Al-Qatoof said, referring to the soldiers who came and damaged his station with official orders from the mayor. "The last time was two months ago, when security from the Mayor's Office stormed the station and destroyed it a few days after I had repaired it," Al-Qatoof said.

A number of local residents, living near the gas station, say to have seen the destruction mentioned by Al-Qatoof. Ali Al-Kubati, a waiter in small restaurant near to the Saudi embassy remembers, "when the bulldozers came to destroy the station, two months ago, the driver refused to stop until he destroyed all the gas pumps."

The Mayor's Office did not respond to repeated calls from the Yemen Times. However, a source from the Sana'a Security Department told the newspaper on condition of anonymity that Al-Qatoof's oil station was considered "illegal."

The Yemen Times obtained copies of several documents from the Mayor's Office. One document, dated Nov. 5, contains the signature of Mayor Abdulqader Hilal and is titled "important and very immediate."

Addressed to a high-ranking employee at the Ministry of Oil and Minerals, who is responsible for oil-related affairs in the capital city, it reads "according to a previous message, do not supply the station, which is near to the Saudi embassy, with any kind of oil derivatives as the station is illegal and it is dangerous for the Saudi embassy, and there are directives to demolish it."

On the document is written a phone number, which the reader is encouraged to call "for more information." A call by the Yemen Times was answered by an anonymous man who replied that the document is valid, but refused to give his name or any further information.

A copy of the document was given to Al-Qatoof when he went to get gas from the state-run Sana'a Oil Company, which is in charge of the distribution of oil in the capital city

Houthis to the rescue?

"On Sept. 21, armed Houthis came to the station and asked me, 'why does this station not work?' Then I told them the whole story. Immediately they asked me to repair it and start working under their protection, and I did," said Ahmed Al-Qatoof, the owner's son.

With a Houthi checkpoint stationed within eyesight of the station, Al-Qatoof's son started preparing his father's business for operation. This time, nobody from the government came to damage the repaired station, which continues to function normally.

While the damaged pumps lie off in the corner of Al-Qatoof's property, everything else in the station is new. Yet, Al-Qatoof remains worried, saying that the Mayor's Office still wants him to remove the station. The difference is that "these days, the Mayor's Office sends orders [to cease operating] while in the past it sent bulldozers to destroy the station."

Despite the order from the mayor, Al-Qatoof says he nevertheless manages to purchase gas from the Sana'a Oil Company. "I give employees in the oil company extra money, and they bring me the oil derivatives," Al-Qatoof explained.

While Al-Qatoof says he does not make a profit because he has to pay bribes, he is relieved his station is operating again, and is hopeful he will begin making a profit soon.

The Saudi embassy has not yet contacted Al-Qatoof to complain and he is optimistic its staff will remain silent, pointing out that he allows a Yemeni military vehicle to remain in his station to protect the embassy.

On Nov. 13, the Yemen Times witnessed a dispute between Al-Qatoof and the group of soldiers that was newly stationed on his property that day. Having become acquainted with the previous soldiers, who have been at his station for a long time, Al-Qatoof was trying to prevent their replacements from being on his property as he did not know them.

Shortly after the dispute broke out, armed Houthis from the nearby checkpoint came and asked the leader of the soldiers, Major Saad Ahmed, to guarantee in written form that they would leave Al-Qatoof's property in case he asks them to. Ultimately, Major Ahmed signed a document in front of the Houthis, handed it over, and the situation was resolved.

"I feel sympathy with the soldiers, so I allow them to remain at the station," Al-Qatoof said.

Mohammad Al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthis' Political Office, told the Yemen Times that the Houthis did not talk to the Saudi embassy or the Mayor's Office about the gas station, and that it was their popular committees who made the decision to help reopen it.

The Houthis' support for Al-Qatoof did not stop at only protecting his station. Abu Ahmed Al-Houthi, who drives a Houthi patrol car around the city, said "I prefer to come from Tahrir [neighborhood] to buy petrol from this station in order to support its owner, because he suffered too much."

Abu Hamza, the Houthi in charge of the checkpoint near the gas station, along with other Houthis in the area, confirmed to the Yemen Times the station is popular among Houthis who try to support Al-Qatoof.

Sana'a resident Adeeb Najeeb, who does not identify as a member of the Houthis but supports their goals, said "when I come to buy petrol from this station, I feel that I support Houthis and not just Al-Qatoof."

Al-Qatoof himself said "thanks to Ansar Allah [the Houthis], because they helped me to reopen my station and they protect me these days. Now I understand that the only way to talk with our government is with force."

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Publication:Yemen Times (Sana'a, Yemen)
Date:Nov 25, 2014
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