Saudi-led coalition releases additional Yemen war prisoners

Houthi prisoners are greeted as they arrive to Sanaa airport, Friday, April 14, 2023. ((AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

A Saudi-led military coalition on Monday freed 104 more prisoners captured in Yemen’s war, a unilateral release that followed an organized prisoner swap amid renewed diplomatic efforts to halt the conflict.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it flew two flights carrying a total of 96 released detainees from Saudi Arabia’s Abha International Airport to Sanaa, Yemen’s capital that has been held for years by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Another flight carried eight freed prisoners from Abha to Aden, a port city held by forces allied to the Saudi-led coalition.

A statement from Brig. Gen. Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, acknowledged the release of 104 Houthi detainees.

A U.N.-brokered deal saw the release of over 700 detained Houthis, and more than 180 other prisoners, including Saudi and Sudanese troops fighting with the Saudi-led coalition. That three-day operation was overseen by the Red Cross and ended on Sunday.

The prisoner releases come as the Houthis and Saudi Arabia say they have made progress in negotiations to revive an expired cease-fire and embark on talks to settle the conflict. Monday’s release was to help those efforts, the kingdom said.

Hans Grundberg, the U.N. envoy for Yemen, said Monday that “We have not seen such a serious opportunity for making progress towards ending the conflict in eight years. But the tide could still turn unless the parties take bolder steps toward peace.”

“Many aspects of the truce continue to be implemented beyond its lifespan,” Grundberg said. “Yemen is experiencing the longest period of relative calm yet in this ruinous war. ... However, this is not enough.”

According to the state-run Saudi Press Agency, al-Maliki said it was part of “efforts to stabilize the cease-fire and create an atmosphere of dialogue between the Yemeni parties to reach a comprehensive and sustainable political solution that ends the Yemeni crisis.”

The Houthis say both sides will continue their talks after Eid al-Fitr, the holiday later this week that marks the end of the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan.