Houthi prisoners freed


A Saudi-led military coalition said it freed 200 prisoners from the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in a move that could further efforts to end the nearly five-year war in Yemen.

The International Committee of the Red Cross was aware of the coalition’s “intention to release 200 detainees”.

“We are in contact with the parties. We are ready to facilitate repatriation of the detainees,” spokeswoman Ruth Hetherington told Reuters.

A coalition statement said it would ease restrictions on Yemeni airspace to allow flights out of the Houthi-held capital Sanaa, evacuating people requiring medical treatment abroad.

Senior Houthi official Mohammed Ali al-Houthi welcomed the coalition move and called for the rest of its prisoners to be released.

The Sunni Muslim alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis after they ousted the internationally recognised government in Sanaa in late 2014.

Saudi Arabia holds informal talks with the Houthis on a ceasefire, sources said, seeking to exit an unpopular war in which it has taken sole responsibility for military efforts after the exit of main coalition partner, the United Arab Emirates.

“The coalition leadership is keen to support efforts to resolve the crisis in Yemen and to push forward the Stockholm agreement, including the deal related to the exchange of prisoners,” spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said.

He was referring to a prisoner swap agreed by Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and the Houthis last December at peace talks in Sweden. It involves thousands of detainees stalled amid mistrust between the warring sides.

The Houthis unilaterally released 350 prisoners in September, including three Saudis, after extending an offer to halt cross-border missile and drone strikes on Saudi Arabia if the coalition ended air strikes on Yemen.

The US wants to restart political negotiations to end the war, which killed thousands and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

The conflict is seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis, who control Sanaa and most major urban centres, say they are fighting a corrupt system.