Saudi Arabia and the Houthis exchange prisoners as Omani officials arrive in Sanaa for talks to end the years-old conflict in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia has released more than a dozen Houthi detainees ahead of a broader prisoner release agreed to by the warring parties, according to a spokesman for the Yemeni rebel group.
The release on Saturday came as Omani officials arrived in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, as part of international efforts to end Yemen’s years-old conflict.
Abd al-Qadir al-Murtada, the Houthi official in charge of prisoner exchange talks in the Yemeni conflict, said on Twitter that 13 Houthi prisoners had arrived in Sanaa.
He said that the prisoners were released in exchange for a Saudi prisoner who was released earlier by the Houthis.
He did not say when the rebels released the Saudi prisoner.
There was no immediate comment from the Saudi government.
Al-Murtada said, “The detainees released today from Saudi prisons are part of the deal agreed upon by the United Nations, and next Thursday…the deal will be fully implemented.”
He was referring to a United Nations-brokered deal concluded in Switzerland last month that includes the release of 887 detainees.
The United Nations special envoy to Yemen said the agreement is one of many developments that reflect movement towards ending the eight-year conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.
The conflict in Yemen began in 2014, when the Houthis seized Sanaa and much of the country’s north, toppling the internationally recognized government that fled to the south and then into exile in Saudi Arabia.
The Houthi move prompted the Saudi-led coalition to intervene months later in an attempt to restore the internationally recognized government to power.
The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The prisoner release came as Saudi and Omani envoys were expected to meet in Sanaa to negotiate a permanent ceasefire with Houthi officials, based on an expired UN-brokered armistice deal.
The Houthi group’s chief negotiator, Mohammed Abdul Salam, who is based in Muscat, said on Twitter on Saturday that he had arrived in Sanaa with an Omani delegation.
The Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV channel reported that a Saudi delegation headed by the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed bin Saeed Al-Jaber, will visit Sanaa on Sunday to also hold talks with the Houthis.
Oman has for years hosted talks between the Houthis, who are backed by Iran and Saudi Arabia.
These negotiations – which are taking place in parallel with United Nations peace efforts – have gained momentum in recent weeks after Saudi Arabia reached an agreement with Iran to restore diplomatic relations between them after a seven-year dispute.
The Iran-Saudi agreement, announced in Beijing on March 10, raised hopes for a settlement to the Yemeni conflict.
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