Over 1,000 prisoners of Yemen war to be freed in swap deal

Over 1,000 prisoners of Yemen war to be freed in swap deal”

Planes carrying prisoners to be exchanged by Yemen's warring parties took off on Friday on the second day of an operation to return about 1,000 men home and help build momentum for a new push to end a catastrophic war.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is overseeing the exchange, said that five of its planes had taken off from airports in the Yemeni cities of Abha, Sanaa and Seiyoun on Thursday morning, according to BBC.

After a new agreement was struck in Switzerland last month, United Nations envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said it was a "very important milestone" in the conflict.

Majed Fadael, a member of the government's committee for prisoner affairs, said negotiators would meet again later this year to discuss the fate of those who remain in Huthi custody.

In recent days, Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen have also released two United States prisoners, long in their hands; at the same time, around 200 Houthis were able to return from Oman, where they had gone in the past to receive medical treatment.

ICRC spokeswoman Ruth Hetherington said more than 700 prisoners had been exchanged on Thursday on a total of seven flights from Sayoun, Sanaa and Abha. Mohammed AbdulSalam, the spokesman for the movement, said in the wake of the deal, "These steps restore hope in building peace". It said the plane coming from Sanaa airport carried 15 Saudis and four Sudanese.

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The Thursday' swap rises hopes of more exchange of prisoners that would pave the way for a comprehensive cease-fire and resumption of peace talks.

"Under the directions of Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, the relevant authorities in the Sultanate contacted authorities in Sanaa which agreed to release the Americans and to transfer them to the Sultanate before heading home", Oman state TV said. "We send our condolences to the family of Bilal Fateen, whose remains will be repatriated as well". Saudi Arabian officials tentatively backed the deal, which is unsafe as it permits dozens of Houthi militants to return to the battle zone after receiving training on advanced drones and missiles.

"The United States welcomes the release today of USA citizens Sandra Loli and Mikael Gidada from Houthi custody in Yemen".

Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Houthis ousted the internationally recognised government from power in Sanaa in late 2014, prompting the Western-backed coalition to intervene in March 2015.

The swap of about 1,000 prisoners between pro-Iran Houthi insurgents and loyalist forces backed by Saudi Arabia is the result of a deal reached last month in Sweden with the work of UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths.

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