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The operation to exchange more than a thousand prisoners between the Houthi rebels and the government in Yemen began with the takeoff from Sana’a airport of a first plane carrying a group of freed Yemeni soldiers.

Planes carrying prisoners exchanged by the belligerents took off from three airports on Thursday (October 15th) in an operation that aims to repatriate around 1,000 men, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.

This exchange of prisoners is “the largest since the start of the conflict,” stressed the ICRC, which is organizing the operation.

Last month, the military coalition led by theSaudi Arabia and the Shiite Houthi rebels of Yemen reached an agreement in Switzerland to exchange 1,081 prisoners, including 15 Saudis, the largest since the start, in December 2018, of the peace negotiations, which have since stalled.

For the start of this exchange, several flights departed from Sana’a, the Yemeni capital controlled by the Houthis, the government-controlled city of Seyoun (southeast) and the Saudi city of Abha, according to rebel officials. A plane took off from Sana’a with 15 Saudi and 4 Sudanese soldiers on board, freed by the Houthis.

These soldiers arrived at an air base in Riyadh, Saudi state television Al-Ekhbariya reported, citing the military coalition operating in Yemen. The Houthi rebels had previously indicated that the plane was to land in Abha, in southern Saudi Arabia.

“Peaceful dialogue can yield results”

The exchange, involving a total of 1,081 prisoners, is spread over two days (Thursday and Friday), explained on Twitter the head of the rebel side of the prisoners’ file, Abdel Kader al-Mortadha. The UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, hailed the start of the operation. “I welcome the start of the release of prisoners agreed by the parties in September in Switzerland in accordance with the commitments made in Stockholm,” he wrote in a statement.

“The operation […] shows once again that peaceful dialogue can yield results, “added the UN official, whose organization sponsored the Swedish and Swiss agreements.” I hope the parties will meet soon under the auspices of the ‘UN to discuss the release of all prisoners and detainees linked to the conflict and bring relief to the thousands of families who are waiting to be reunited with their loved ones, “said Martin Giffiths.

Under the terms of the agreement reached, which is part of a series of measures aimed at relaunching peace negotiations, the Iranian-backed Houthi guerrillas pledge to release around 400 people, including 15 Saudi soldiers and 4 Sudanese, during that the coalition should release 681 Houthi fighters.

The exchange comes the day after the release of two American nationals held by the Houthis, who also handed over the remains of a third American taken prisoner.

The Yemen war has claimed tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilians, and resulted in what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

With AFP and Reuters

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