The Saudi-led Arab coalition said on Friday that a plane carrying Houthi prisoners took off from Saudi Arabia to Yemen.
Move comes as part of Saudi humanitarian initiative
The Saudi Press Agency quoted the coalition’s statement as saying “the first plane transporting Houthi prisoners to Yemen has left the Kingdom as part of the Saudi humanitarian initiative.”
“Three phases of transporting prisoners by airplanes to Sanaa and Aden will be completed today,” it added.
The Houthi rebel group and the Yemeni government have yet to comment on the coalition’s statement.
On April 1, UN envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg announced a “long overdue” two-month truce between Yemen’s warring rivals, under which all offensive military air, ground, and maritime operations were halted.
Yemen has been engulfed by violence and instability since 2014, when Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels captured much of the country, including the capital Sanaa.
According to the UN, the conflict has created one of the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crises.
It was earlier reported that, The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen announced on Friday that it transferred more than 100 released prisoners to Yemen, in coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross, as part of a humanitarian initiative to support a United Nations (UN)-brokered truce.
The coalition announced last month that it would release 163 prisoners from the pro-Iran Houthi group, but a Houthi official later said that the list included individuals who were not affiliated with the movement.
The coalition disclosed that 108 detainees were flown from Saudi Arabia to Aden in southern Yemen, where the Saudi-backed Yemeni government is based, and nine to the Houthi-controlled capital, Sanaa. In a statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed the return of 117 people.
The coalition affirmed that 37 prisoners were transported by land across the Saudi-Yemeni border. At the same time, Saudi state media reported that nine “foreign fighters” were handed over to their embassies but did not specify nationalities.
A Yemeni government official told Reuters that the Houthis had refused to take back those transferred to Aden. The head of the Houthi prisoners’ affairs committee announced this month that the list of detainees includes people unknown to the movement and that they are not its prisoners.
The coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis after the movement ousted the internationally-recognised government from Sanaa in late 2014.
The warring parties agreed to a two-month truce that began on 2 April, the first major breakthrough in years, as part of a UN-led effort to end a war that has killed tens of thousands of people and caused a severe humanitarian crisis.
The parties also discussed a possible prisoner exchange under the auspices of the UN, including 1,400 Houthi prisoners and 823 coalition prisoners, including 16 Saudis.
The last major prisoner exchange between the two sides was in 2020, involving about 1,000 detainees.