It is the third and final day of a large prisoner exchange that began on Friday. The government and rebels in Yemen released a new group of detainees on Sunday (April 16th) amid talks aimed at ending more than eight years of war. Two planes carrying prisoners from both sides made the connection between the capital, Sanaa, in the hands of the insurgents since 2014, and Marib, the last bastion of power in the north of the country.

In Marib, the ex-detainees boarded the planes of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – which supervises the operation -, some in wheelchairs, loaded with bags of provisions for breaking the Ramadan fast, while in Sanaa, Houthi fighters did a traditional dance to welcome their comrades. “Forty-eight ex-detainees were on board the Marib-Sanaa flight, and forty-two on the Sanaa-Marib flight,” said Jessica Moussan, ICRC media relations officer.

Three other flights are planned for the day, carrying detainees including four journalists who have been sentenced to death by the Houthis, according to Majid Fadael, official spokesperson for the government delegation responsible for negotiating the exchange. In all, around 900 prisoners were to be released in three days under a deal reached in March in Switzerland between the government, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, and the Houthis, close to Iran.

The operation began on Friday with the release of 318 prisoners, including the former defense minister and the brother of Yemen’s former president. On Saturday, some 350 rebels returned to Sanaa from Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni city of Al-Mukha, while 16 Saudis and 3 Sudanese coalition members arrived in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

New talks planned

“The past three days have brought joy to many families torn apart by conflict. We hope that more releases will take place in the near future,” said Jessica Moussan of the ICRC. This exchange, the largest since the release of more than 1,000 prisoners in October 2020, comes against a backdrop of growing hopes for peace in this conflict which has plunged the country into one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

The war in Yemen has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, according to the UN, in a context of epidemics, lack of drinking water and acute hunger. A UN-brokered six-month truce was not renewed when it expired in October, but the situation remained calm on the ground, offering respite to the population.

Last week, a Saudi delegation, accompanied by Omani mediators, traveled to Sanaa for talks aimed at reviving the truce and laying the foundations for a more durable ceasefire. Discussions were “positive” and further talks are planned after Eid-al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim month of fasting in a few days, Houthi rebel political council chairman Mehdi Hussein Al said on Saturday. -My cat.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said earlier that talks “will continue as soon as possible in order to reach a comprehensive political solution.” Hopes for peace in this country, the poorest in the Arabian Peninsula, have been revived by the unexpected rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which announced in March their intention to restore diplomatic relations after seven years. a break.