Saudi-led coalition releases Yemeni rebels and allows patients to travel from Sanaa

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — The Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen said on Tuesday it had released 200 Houthi rebel prisoners and allowed sick patients to travel from Sanaa, a move that supports moves to end the conflict in the country.

The decision came nearly two months after insurgent attacks against Saudi Arabia ceased, and shortly after a Saudi official announced that the kingdom had opened a “channel of communication” with Tehran-backed rebels to end the 2014 war.

Last Friday, the UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said that the aerial bombardment in Yemen has fallen sharply over the past two weeks, considering that it could pave the way for a general ceasefire in the country.

The spokesman for the “coalition to support the legitimacy in Yemen,” Colonel Turki al-Maliki in a statement published by the official news agency that “the leadership of the coalition forces decided on the initiative of the release of 200 prisoners of the militia Houthi.”

He also decided to “fly flights in cooperation with the World Health Organization to transport patients from the capital Sanaa to countries where they can receive appropriate treatment for their cases.”

He explained that the decisions were taken “out of the keenness of the leadership of the coalition to continue to support efforts to resolve the crisis in Yemen.”

They also said “the continuation of the coalition’s efforts to improve the humanitarian situation, especially the health of the Yemeni people, and pursuant to the teachings of the true Islamic religion, and the traditional Arab customs and traditions.”

– The rebels welcome.

The rebels welcomed the move by Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, an official in the Houthi political leadership.

“We welcome the move announced by the coalition,” he said on his Twitter account. “We call on them to stop torture and abuse until all prisoners and detainees are removed.”

“We also call for arranging a mass reception of these heroes upon their arrival in the land of the precious homeland.”

During talks in Sweden last December, the Houthis agreed with coalition-backed government forces to exchange some 15,000 prisoners.

But the deal has not been implemented, although at the end of September the Houthis released 290 government fighters on a unilateral initiative.

In January, the coalition released seven Houthi prisoners.

Sanaa airport has been closed since 2016 for flights, and the coalition, which controls the movement of the airport, only allows UN aircraft and humanitarian organizations to use it.

Since its closure, patients have been transferred abroad only on one occasion ahead of Sweden’s talks last year aboard a Kuwaiti plane that transported a group of Houthi casualties from Sanaa to Oman.

This is the first time that the airspace will open to a series of flights to transport patients.

– Optimism in peace soon –

The war in Yemen has been going on since 2014 between Houthi rebels close to Iran and forces loyal to the government of recognized President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Fighting intensified in March 2015 as Saudi Arabia intervened at the head of a military alliance in support of government forces.

The conflict in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of people, including many civilians, according to humanitarian organizations.

There are still 3.3 million displaced people and 24.1 million people, more than two-thirds of the population, need help, according to the United Nations, which describes the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as the worst in the world today.

The conflict in Yemen has subsided for more than two months as the rebels announced an initiative to halt their missile attacks against Saudi Arabia, a week after they adopted strikes against Aramco’s facilities in the east of the kingdom.

About two weeks ago, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the Houthi rebels had a role in Yemen’s future, and expressed optimism for a comprehensive solution soon.

Gargash, whose country co-leads the military alliance, came weeks after the UAE announced its troop redeployment and cuts, with a focus on a political solution.

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