The Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels said Tuesday, November 26 that it will release 200 insurgents, as efforts pick up pace to end the conflict in the impoverished country.
Patients needing medical care will also be allowed to be flown out of Sanaa airport, which has been closed to commercial flights since 2016, coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki said, quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The coalition had decided “to release 200 prisoners of the Houthi militia” and to facilitate “in cooperation with the World Health Organization flights carrying people in need of medical care from Sana’a.”
The initiative coincides with a lull in Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and after a senior official in Riyadh said the kingdom had established an “open channel” with the rebels.
“We have had an open channel with the Huthis since 2016. We are continuing these communications to support peace in Yemen,” the official told reporters in the Saudi capital.
“We don’t close our doors with the Houthis,” he said.
The comment comes after Saudi Arabia separately brokered a power-sharing agreement between the Yemeni government and southern separatists.
Last Friday, United Nations envoy Martin Griffiths said the rate of coalition air strikes had sharply fallen over the past two weeks, in an apparent sign that “something is changing in Yemen.”
On Monday, however, coalition air raids killed eight Houthi rebels near the key western port of Hodeidah, local officials said.
Yemen’s warring parties agreed under a deal brokered in Sweden last December to exchange 15,000 prisoners, but the accord has not been fully implemented.
The coalition freed seven Houthi prisoners in January, and the rebels released 290 coalition fighters in September.
The Houthi rebels hold the capital Sana’a while the Saudi led-military coalition controls Yemen’s maritime borders and airspace.
Sanaa airport has been closed for the past three years, with only U.N. and humanitarian flights allowed in and out.
Last year, wounded rebels were flown out of Sana’a for treatment, in what was seen as a key step ahead of the December peace talks.
Maliki said on Monday the coalition’s latest initiative was an attempt to resolve the crisis in Yemen, where it intervened in 2015 in support of the country’s internationally recognized government.
Since the intervention, tens of thousands of people have died in Yemen, contributing to what the United Nations has termed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
With reporting from AFP