Yemen: Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels carry out huge prisoner exchange

Saturday, 17 Oct, 2020

The planned prisoner exchange comes after the release Wednesday of two Americans held captive in Yemen, in an apparent swap for some 240 Houthi Ansarullah supporters who were allowed to return home after being stranded in Oman.

Meanwhile, the Houthi-run al-Masirah TV reported the arrival of three ICRC planes in the capital Sanaa, carring released Houthi militants.

A plane carrying Houthi members lands at the Sanaa International Airport during a prisoner swap, in Sanaa, Yemen, Oct. 15, 2020.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is overseeing the exchange, said that five of its planes had taken off from airports in the Yemeni cities of Abha, Sanaa and Seiyoun on Thursday morning, according to BBC.

U.N. Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on Thursday the swap was an "airlift of hope", adding that both parties remain in negotiations for a permanent ceasefire, which he hoped could be agreed by the end of the year.

A rare and long-awaited prisoner exchange began between warring parties in Yemen on Thursday, mediated by the United Nations and carried out by the International Committee of the Red Cross, said pan-Arab media confirming an announcement by the Red Cross. The other two planes were Yemenis, and are being flown to Hadramout region, to an area controlled by pro-Saudi government.

One of the airplanes was carrying Saudi and Sudanese detainees and flew to Saudi Arabia.

Patel said that while some high-risk militants that the Houthis wanted back were excluded from the swap, none of the Houthi fighters who were returned to Yemen were on US terrorism watchlists. He also said he hoped another, bigger swap deal could be agreed.

"The United States welcomes the release today of US citizens Sandra Loli and Mikael Gidada from Houthi custody in Yemen".

Yemen has been embroiled in conflict since the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels overran the capital in 2014, and the Saudi and Emirati-led military coalition intervened the following year to restore the internationally recognized government. After over five years of war, fighting remains deadlocked between the Houthis and the Yemeni government, backed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their coalition, whom the USA continues to arm despite allegations of war crimes.

But aid groups have warned that the USA policy and a lack of funding from other countries are having a dire effect amid desperate need in the country, as ABC News reported a few weeks ago.

With the conflict's effects intensified by deadly outbreaks of cholera and now COVID-19, some 24 million Yemenis, 80% of the population, require aid, while 20 million lack sufficient food supplies and access to clean water, Carboni said.