After major Yemen prisoner swap, another 104 released: ICRC

More than 100 prisoners of war were flown from Saudi Arabia to Yemen on Monday, further buoying peace hopes a day after a major exchange of 869 captives ended, the ICRC said.

Two International Committee of the Red Cross planes carrying 48 prisoners each flew to Sanaa, Yemen’s rebel-held capital, while a third with eight captives headed for government-controlled Aden in the south, the humanitarian group said.

The “unilateral” release is outside the terms of the three-day exchange that was negotiated between Yemen’s Huthi rebels and government officials and finished on Sunday, ICRC media adviser Jessica Moussan told AFP.

“We welcome this initiative and are pleased to see that humanitarian considerations are being taken for the sake of reuniting families,” Moussan said. “This will bring immense relief to the families of the detainees.”

The ICRC was “facilitating” the transfer by providing air transport and logistical support, and by interviewing the captives, Moussan said.

The release of 104 captives, days before the major Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr, takes the total number to 973 freed since Friday.

During a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Monday, the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, said the releases demonstrated “the power of peaceful negotiations” and said there had not been “such a serious opportunity for making progress towards ending the conflict in eight years”.

The Iran-backed Huthis seized Sanaa in 2014, prompting a Saudi-led military intervention months later.

Hundreds of thousands have died in the conflict, which has also 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.

The Saudi-led coalition’s spokesman, Turki al-Maliki, confirmed the extra releases, saying they “completed” the prisoner exchange.

This “extension of previous humanitarian initiatives” aims to help “stabilise” the lapsed truce and create an “atmosphere of dialogue”, Maliki said, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Last week, a Saudi delegation held talks in Sanaa aimed at establishing a more durable ceasefire. The discussions ended without a truce but with an agreement to meet again.

Grundberg referred to the “constructive dialogue” in Sanaa and said: “A supportive regional environment will reinforce peace efforts in Yemen.”

But he cautioned that “the tide could still turn unless the parties take bolder steps yet towards peace.”

He urged swift progress in releases all of Yemen’s conflict-related detainees, as “many more Yemenis” are still waiting for the return of loved ones.

The prisoner releases come a month after Gulf heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties, sparking a wave of rapprochement across the troubled region.

Analysts say Saudi Arabia now accepts its prolonged military campaign will not defeat the rebel forces.


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