128 Houthi prisoners detained in Saudi Arabia released, flown to Yemen’s Sanna in efforts to end five-year conflict

  • Some 128 Houthi rebels detained in Saudi Arabia were flown to the Yemeni city of Sanaa and released on Thursday

  • Move comes as efforts to end the five-year conflict gain momentum

  • Prisoners arrived on three ICRC planes and were met inside the airport by rebel commanders and some family members

Sanaa: Some 128 Houthi rebels detained in Saudi Arabia were flown to the Yemeni city of Sanaa and released on Thursday, as efforts to end the five-year conflict gain momentum. The prisoners arrived on three International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) planes and were met inside the airport by rebel commanders and some family members, an AFP correspondent saw.

The Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen said earlier this week that it would release 200 Houthi prisoners and also allow patients needing medical care to be flown out of Sanaa airport, which has been closed to commercial flights since 2016.

 128 Houthi prisoners detained in Saudi Arabia released, flown to Yemen’s Sanna in efforts to end five-year conflict

File image of a protest by Houthis in Yemen. AP

Riyadh and its allies intervened in the Yemen war in March 2015 to back the internationally recognised government, shortly after the Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized Sanaa. "The ICRC sees the release as a positive step and hopes that it will spur further releases and repatriations of conflict-related detainees," it said in a statement.

It said the Yemen Red Crescent transferred some of the released prisoners to a medical facility for check-ups. As they alighted from the plane, some of the detainees had to be helped down the steps and put in wheelchairs. Outside the main gate of the airport, hundreds of people gathered to see the detainees and check if they were people they knew who had gone missing during the war.

United Nations envoy Martin Griffiths on Tuesday also welcomed the coalition's decision to release the rebels after meeting with Prince Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi deputy defence minister. "Griffiths thanked KSA (Saudi Arabia) for announcing the release of the 200 detainees and the opening of Sanaa airport for mercy flights that would allow Yemenis to receive much-needed medical treatment abroad," his office tweeted.

The initiatives coincide with a lull in Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and come after a senior official in Riyadh this month said it had an "open channel" with the Iran-backed rebels. However, sporadic violence continues on the ground, with at least 10 civilians killed and 22 wounded, including four children and a woman in an attack on Wednesday in a market in northern Saada, the UN said.

The attack came a week after a similar incident that killed 10 civilians, including Ethiopian migrants, in the same location, it added. "Every indiscriminate attack on civilians violates international humanitarian law. None of these can be justified," Lise Grande, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said in a statement.

The decision to repatriate the detainees has been hailed by the Houthis, with senior official Mohammed Ali al-Huthi calling for a "mass reception" to welcome the released rebels. Since 2015, tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced in the Yemen conflict, which the UN has termed the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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Updated Date: Nov 29, 2019 12:35:11 IST