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Yemen's warring parties start prisoner swap, raising peace prospects

October 15, 2020 at 5:15 pm

UN aircraft at Sanaa International Airport in Yemen on 3 February 2020 [MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images]

Planes carrying prisoners exchanged by the warring parties in Yemen took off from three airports on Thursday in an operation to return about 1,000 men home and help build the trust to enable fresh talks to end a devastating war, Reuters reports.

The Saudi-led military coalition and Yemen’s Houthi movement agreed last month in Switzerland to exchange 1,081 prisoners, including 15 Saudis, in the largest swap of its kind in the five-year-old conflict.

In an operation managed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, three planes carrying members of the coalition freed from detention took off from the Houthi-held capital, Sanaa, a Reuters witness said.

“This operation that means so much to so many families is under way,” Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC regional director for the Middle East, told Reuters from Sanaa airport.

READ: Yemen’s Houthis release US nationals

One of the planes was carrying Saudi and Sudanese detainees and flew to Saudi Arabia. The other two flew to Sayoun airport in the government-held Hadramout region.

Two planes carrying Houthis released by the coalition departed Sayoun, and a second arrived from Abha airport in Saudi Arabia, another Reuters witness and sources said.

ICRC spokeswoman Ruth Hetherington said more than 700 prisoners had been exchanged on Thursday on a total of seven flights from Sayoun, Sanaa and Abha. More flights are scheduled over the next two days, the aid agency said.

Under the deal, the Iran-aligned Houthi group is to release around 400 people while the coalition would free 681 Houthi fighters.