Middle East

Saudi-Led Coalition Frees Yemen Rebels in Peace Gesture

The Saudi-led military coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi insurgents announced Friday it was freeing a batch of rebel prisoners, part of what it says are efforts to end the seven-year war.

Last week the coalition said it would release 163 prisoners it accused of participating in “hostilities” against Saudi Arabia.

The official Saudi Press Agency said on Twitter Friday that process had begun, adding there would be “three stages of air transport of prisoners” to Yemen’s Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa and the southern port city of Aden.

It did not say how many prisoners would be let go, but a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross told AFP the organization was “facilitating the transfer of more than 100 Yemeni former detainees from Saudi Arabia to Yemen.”

The spokesman, Basheer Omar, said there would be three ICRC flights from the Saudi city of Abha to Aden.

The conflict pits Yemen’s Saudi-backed government, officially based in Aden, against the Iran-aligned Houthis.

It has killed hundreds of thousands of people and pushed the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine.

It has also featured Houthi strikes on neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, another member of the coalition.

But a renewable two-month truce that went into effect in early April has provided a rare respite from violence in much of the country, and has seen oil tankers begin arriving at the port of Hodeida, potentially easing fuel shortages in Sanaa and elsewhere.

The truce also involved a deal to resume commercial flights out of Sanaa’s airport for the first time in six years and to open main roads leading into the besieged Yemeni city of Taez —- though neither step has been taken so far.

In late March, just before the truce took effect, the Houthis said they had agreed to a prisoner swap that would free 1,400 of their fighters in exchange for 823 pro-government personnel — including 16 Saudis and three Sudanese.

The last such swap was in October 2020, when 1,056 prisoners were released on each side, according to the Red Cross.

Houthi media reported April 23 that the rebels had released 42 prisoners.

The Houthis took over Sanaa in 2014, prompting the Saudi-led military intervention to support the government the following year and igniting a war that has caused what the United Nations terms the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

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