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Saudi Arabia, Houthis agree to swap almost 900 prisoners following Switzerland talks

March 20, 2023 at 2:50 pm

Yemen’s Houthi Force [MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP via Getty Images]

Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Houthi rebels have agreed to the release of almost 900 prisoners, with over a dozen being Saudis detained by the Houthis and most being those detained by the Saudi and Yemeni government side.

As a result of talks in Switzerland, facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations, a total of around 880 detainees are to be exchanged between both sides of the ongoing conflict in Yemen, according to the Reuters news agency, which quoted the head of the Yemeni government delegation.

The Houthis’ chief negotiator, Mohammed Abdulsalam stated on Twitter today that the negotiations in Geneva “are heading towards reaching a humanitarian deal under which 700 prisoners, including women and civilians, will be freed in exchange for the release of 15 Saudi prisoners of war, three Sudanese and others”.

The prisoner swap, which has not yet been officially confirmed by either the UN or the ICRC, comes at a time when there are growing hopes in the region following the China-brokered agreement to resume diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran – countries which both support opposing sides in the ongoing conflict in Yemen.

READ: Yemen and the repercussions of the Saudi-Iran rapprochement

After almost eight years since Riyadh entered the civil war in support of the internationally-recognised Yemeni government, while Tehran has been supporting and arming the Houthi rebels, the recent development in Saudi-Iranian relations has been praised as a factor that could potentially halt or create a resolution to the conflict.

Last week, the UN’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, indicated as much when he told the UN Security Council (UNSC) that there has been “a step change in the scope and depth of the discussions,” urging the Yemeni government and Houthis “to seize the opportunities” presented by the diplomatic momentum.

Grundberg also revealed that intense diplomatic efforts were underway for resolving an end to the eight-year-long conflict – a war that has resulted in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises – which was likely tied to today’s reported prisoner swap deal.