Saudi Arabia Releases 200 Houthi Prisoners, Bringing Hope for Yemen Peace
A second release of Yemen prisoners of war in two months brings hope that the Yemen War is nearing an end.
The Saudi-led Arab military coalition, which has been at war with the Yemen Houthi militias for the past several years, released 200 Houthi prisoners of war from Saudi prisons on Thursday.
With assistance from the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 128 of the 200 prisoners of war released by Saudi Arabia arrived at Yemen’s Sanaa International airport – an airport the Saudi coalition shut down in 2016.
According to Al Jazeera, the ICRC called the release a gesture of goodwill that would leave a positive impression and hope that more prisoners will be released.
“This release is excellent news for the freed detainees and their families in Yemen with whom they will be reunited,” said Kedir Awol Omar, the ICRC’s head of mission in Saudi Arabia.
Previous Yemen Prisoner Release
A similar prisoner release process occurred back on September 30, when the Houthis set free 290 personnel who belonged to the Arab military coalition.
The September release of prisoners came after the Houthi rebels and the Saudi coalition-backed Yemeni government forces agreed in December of 2018 to embark on a prisoner swap of approximately 15,000 prisoners from both sides – an agreement that has not yet been realized.
Last Thursday, the United Nations’ envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, was quoted as saying that the airstrikes on Yemen have notably decreased over the past few weeks. The UN official expressed hope that the decrease would lead to a final ceasefire agreement in the region.
In the meantime, Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the Arab military coalition said in a statement published by the Saudi Gazette that the coalition decided to release 200 Houthi prisoners and that the Sanaa airport would be opened for medical flights.
“In cooperation with the World Health Organization, there will be flights to transport patients from the capital Sanaa to countries where they can receive appropriate treatment for their cases,” al-Maliki said.
Footage published by the Houthi-led Ansarollah group website showed Houthi prisoners upon their arrival at the Sanaa International airport.
In reaction to the news of the prisoner release, Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugees Council, told Al Jazeera the easing of the air blockade would save the lives of many Yemen residents.
“For the last three years, the Sanaa airport closure has been a death sentence for thousands of women, children and men who died prematurely because they were unable to get treatment abroad,” said Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
“Today’s move comes too late for them, but will hopefully save the lives of other Yemenis caught in the conflict and with no available treatment in the country,” he added.
Yemen Civil War
Fighting in Yemen began five years ago when Houthi rebels took control of large parts of the country, including the capital Sanaa, in late 2014. Mass protests and the Houthi rebel group forced the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi from power in 2015. Hadi is now reportedly residing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The civil war has its roots in the 2011 Arab Spring, which led to a 2011 Yemen uprising that eventually forced the end of the 32-year-long regime of Yemen’s late president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The uprising grew into a military conflict in 2014 and has since caused the death of thousands of people and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more.
Since March, 2015, the Saudi-led military coalition has enforced both a land and sea blockade in rebel-held Yemen territories in an attempt to prevent the possible smuggling of weapons. A year later in 2016, the coalition shut down Yemen’s primary international airport the Sanaa International Airport, thus imposing an air blockade on Yemen.