Yemen rebels and government complete prisoner exchange

Yemeni rebels and government forces freed scores of prisoners Sunday on the last of a three day exchange of nearly 900 detainees, boosting hopes of ending their protracted civil war.

Planes carrying detainees took off at the same time from the Huthi rebel-held capital of Sanaa and the government-controlled northern city of Marib, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.

“The first flight from Marib and the first flight from Sanaa have left,” ICRC media adviser Jessica Moussan told AFP.

“Forty eight former detainees were on board the Marib-Sanaa flight, and 42 on the Sanaa-Marib flight.”

Three other flights during the day were to complete the deal reached in Switzerland last month to exchange 181 government forces for 706 rebels.

Four journalists sentenced to death by the Iranian-backed Huthis are part of the exchange, said government negotiator Majed Fadail.

Rebel political chief, Mahdi al-Mashat, said the next round of talks with Saudi Arabia, which leads the military coalition against the Huthis, would start after the Eid al-Fitr holiday expected on April 21, Yemen’s Saba news agency reported.

The last talks ended hours before 318 prisoners were transported on four flights on Friday between government-controlled Aden and Sanaa, reuniting detainees with their families.

On Saturday, 357 detainees took flights between the Saudi city of Abha and Sanaa. Saudis were among the prisoners freed.

It is not known how many prisoners each side still has.

The Huthis seized Sanaa in 2014, prompting the Saudi-led intervention the following year. Hundreds of thousands have died in the conflict which triggered a major humanitarian crisis.

A UN-brokered ceasefire that started in April 2022 has sharply reduced casualties. The truce expired in October, but fighting has largely remained on hold.

Marib governorate, an oil-rich region, saw some of the most bitter fighting in the last two years. The city of Marib is the last northern bastion of the government, which is now based in the southern city of Aden.

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