From crafts to Kalashnikovs: arms souk thrives in Yemen's Taez
Once overflowing with handicrafts, the old Al-Shinayni market in the south-western Yemeni city of Taez is now bursting with Kalashnikovs and bullets as traders scramble to scratch out a living in the war-wracked country.
Yemen has been plunged into a devastating war since the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) swept into Sanaa in a late 2014 offensive, sparking a military intervention months later by a Saudi-led coalition.
Taez, population 615,000, is controlled by Yemeni forces but under siege by the Houthis, who have repeatedly bombarded the city.
Many civilians in tribal Yemen carry personal arms even under normal circumstances, and weapons trade is common. But the war has seen the arms market surge, and traditional trades pushed aside.
"In the past, the city's old souk used to sell mainly handicraft items made by blacksmiths, potters and tailors," said merchant Abu Ali.
"When the war erupted, most merchants turned to selling weapons," the tailor-turned arms trader said.
"Some sell Qat, and others have fled. Half of the shops have shut down," he added.
'Bullets and weapons'
Armed men on motorcycles whizz in and out of the market, once a hub for selling clay pots and jugs.
Fatigues, tactical vests and helmets are on display outside the shops. Inside, AK47 assault rifles hang on the walls, with bullets and mortar shells neatly lining the shelves.
"It is an arms market," said Abu Ali.
Different weapons carry different price tags. An AK47 rifle is sold for $1,090, a pistol for $818, and a bullet for half a dollar.
Like Abu Ali, the war forced Mohammed Tajer, a handicraft merchant, to turn to the arms trade to make ends meet.
"We used to work well" before the war, Tajer said. "But once the war started, we had to resort to selling bullets and weapons. If the conflict ends, we will go back to our previous professions."
'Arms trade flourished'
The conflict in Yemen has triggered what the UN describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 24 million Yemenis -- around two-thirds of the population -- in need of aid.
Taez has not been spared from the violence.
Abid al-Rashdi, who still sells handmade goods at Al-Shinayni, said he struggles to keep up his line of work amid a conflict that shows no sign of abating.
"In the past five years, the blacksmith and pottery professions have been greatly impacted while arms trade flourished," he said.
Shuttered shops secured with padlocks lie on either side of an open storefront that says "tailoring for men".
Inside, on the shelves where threads and fabrics were once placed, bullets and guns now sit, some locally produced and others smuggled into the country.