Ex-Yemeni prisoners land from Sanaa on third day of exchange

Four prominent journalists among former detainees aboard ICRC-chartered flights

A freed prisoner talks to his son after landing on an ICRC-chartered plane after it arrived at Sanaa Airport. Reuters
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A group that had been detained in Yemen's rebel-held capital Sanaa landed in Marib on Sunday as prisoner swaps continued for the third consecutive day.

A plane carrying 48 Houthis — the first of several such flights — landed in Sanaa, while another carrying 42 Yemeni detainees flew in the opposite direction, landing in Marib.

Another three flights are scheduled to leave Marib on Sunday and two from Sanaa.

Deputy human rights minister Majid Al Fadael shared photos of the group waiting at Sanaa Airport for the first flight to Marib, and of buses transporting Houthis to Tadawin Airport. After the plane had landed, he shared images the newly freed men walking across the tarmac ready to meet family members, some of whom they hadn't seen since the war began eight years ago.

A total of 194 former detainees will be exchanged on Sunday, including four prominent journalists after international human rights organisations had pressed for their freedom. These included Tawfiq Al Mansouri, who is reportedly in poor health, his family told The National.

Prisoner exchanges began on Friday amid renewed efforts to bring an end to the nine-year conflict in Yemen.

Almost 900 will be swapped between the Iran-backed Houthis and a Saudi coalition led by the internationally recognised government.

The process is being enabled by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Ten flights have already transported 675 prisoners, it told The National on Sunday.

Saudi detainees were included on Saturday as planes departed for Riyadh, while flights also departed for government-held Mokha on the Red Sea coast.

On Friday, 318 prisoners were transported on four flights between government-controlled Aden and Sanaa.

Many are awaiting emotional reunions ahead of the Eid Al Fitr holiday next week, with some families reuniting for the first time in more than eight years.

The ICRC has shared images of family reunions and described Saturday as a "day of joy."

"As we repatriated 237 former detainees from Abha to Sanaa and 20 from Sanaa to Riyadh, hundreds of families can finally rejoice after being reunited with their loved ones," said the organisation's GCC representative Ala'a Nayel.

"The energy and emotions of these individuals as they finally get to hug their loved ones in indescribable.

Journalist Tawfiq Al Mansouri was sentenced to death by Houthi rebels in 2020 but is expected to be sent home as part of Sunday's exchange.

His family has told The National of their anticipation and joy to celebrate Eid together after eight long years of separation.

While the deal is seen as a breakthrough towards ending the conflict, experts have warned that there is no "quick fix" to Yemen's war.

"The country requires a comprehensive, multi-track strategy to address the extensive legacy of war and identify viable solutions for the future," Ahmed Nagi, senior Yemen analyst at the International Crisis Group, told The National on Friday.

Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to Yemen visited Sanaa last week to revive a peace deal with the Houthi rebels which ended last October.

The UN has said the talks are the closest Yemen has come to peace.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US national security adviser Jake Sullivan have hailed the progress made in ending the conflict.

Updated: April 16, 2023, 9:02 AM