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Yemeni Houthi rebels release 290 prisoners “unilaterally”

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Yemeni rebels on Monday released 290 of their captives, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement, including 42 survivors of a Riyadh-led coalition bombing of a detention center last month.

The ICRC said “290 detainees were released today in a unilateral operation, and included the release of 42 people who survived the attack on a place of detention in the province of Dhamar.”

The UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, in a statement welcomed the rebel initiative, part of the implementation of the terms of peace agreements reached in Sweden last year.

“I hope this step will be followed by further initiatives that will facilitate the exchange of all those detained in connection with the conflict, based on the Stockholm Convention,” Griffiths said.

The UN envoy called on “all parties to ensure the safe return of released detainees to their homes.”

In its statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) considered the release of prisoners “a positive step that will hopefully revive the release of detainees associated with the conflict” under the Swedish agreements.

Ahead of the Red Cross announcement, Yemeni rebels in Sanaa said they planned to release 350 prisoners, including three Saudis.

“We have submitted to the United Nations a unilateral initiative to release 350 prisoners from the other party who were included in the Swedish agreement statements,” Abdul Qadir al-Murtada, head of the rebel prisoners’ committee, said in remarks carried by the Houthi agency Saba.

– “Break the deadlock” –

In December 2018, the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels reached a UN-sponsored agreement in Sweden that stipulated a truce in the strategic Red Sea port city of Hodeidah and a prisoner exchange, as well as an agreement on the city of Taiz (southwest Yemen).

“We have put forward this initiative to push the Swedish agreement into effect and to break the deadlock that has prevailed for several months as a result of the intransigence and refusal of the aggression countries to implement it,” he told AFP in Sanaa.

According to al-Murtada, the Houthis’ release of the prisoners confirms “our seriousness and our credibility in implementing the agreement.”

“We hope the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross will put pressure on the other party to take a similar step or count a similar number of our captives in any future deal through them.”

The release of the prisoners on Monday comes after the rebels announced at the weekend that they had captured hundreds of pro-government forces.

On Sunday, a Yemeni military source from forces loyal to the Yemeni government said that the Houthis captured about 1,300 Yemeni soldiers, including 280 wounded.

But Murtada, for his part, confirmed the rebels had announced the capture of more than 2,000 fighters from pro-government forces, including Saudi soldiers, in an operation carried out last August near the Saudi border.

The rebels on Sunday aired video footage they said was evidence of the capture, but gave no further details.

Since 2014, Yemen has been at war 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 war has claimed about 10,000 lives and more than 56,000 wounded since 2015, according to the World Health Organization, but a number of humanitarian officials believe the actual toll is much higher.

In early September, a coalition air strike on a Houthi rebel position killed more than 100 people in Dhamar, south of the Yemeni capital Sanaa, the Red Cross said.

The coalition announced at the time that the strike targeted a “legitimate military target” that was not on the list of sites that could not be targeted.

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