Middle EastSaudi ArabiaYemen

Over 100 Freed Houthi Prisoners Return to Yemen

Over 100 Houthi prisoners released by Saudi Arabia returned to Yemen, a move toward a long-anticipated prisoner swap between the warring parties.

Welcoming 128 freed Yemenis at the airport in the capital, Sana’a, Houthi leader Muhammad al-Bukhaiti hailed their arrival as “a first practical step by the Saudis that builds trust.”

Dozens more released in Saudi Arabia earlier this week are expected to follow, according to AP.

Relatives and Houthi officials gathered around the procession of prisoners.

Their return was a sign that Riyadh and Houthis were advancing a UN-brokered deal aimed at ending the Saudi aggression in the Arab world’s poorest country.

“There’s a positive environment now in Sana’a,” Erika Trovar, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which supervised the captives’ arrival, said. “People in the streets are more optimistic about the future … and about the return of more detainees to their families.”

In September, Houthis freed over 200 Saudi-backed militants who had been held since they seized Sana’a, along with much of northern Yemen, in 2014.

“This move (Thursday) by the Saudis is lacking,” Houthi official Abdul-Qader el-Murtaza said in a statement. “We hope that a full exchange deal will be completed by both parties.”

The UN-mediated agreement, which has yet to be fully implemented, also involves a ceasefire in the crucial port city of Hudaydah, a main conduit for humanitarian aid and imports into Houthi territory.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and some of its Arab allies have been carrying out deadly airstrikes against the Houthi Ansarullah movement in an attempt to restore power to fugitive former president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh.

An estimated two million children in Yemen are currently suffering from acute malnutrition, including 360,000 under five years old, according to recent UNICEF reports.

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