Humanitarian aid to enter besieged Taez under deal made in Yemen talks

Meanwhile, some 280 government loyalists freed in a prisoner swap that began on Wednesday and finished early on Thursday, celebrated their release in Aden's Al Arodh Square, Mohammed Al Qalisi reports.

Yemenis celebrate in the Khormaskar area of Aden on December 17, 2015, after the rebels released hundreds of pro-government detainees as part of a prisoner swap.   Mohammed Al Qalisi for The National
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ADEN // The full resumption of humanitarian aid deliveries to the Yemeni city of Taez was agreed on Thursday during talks between the government and rebels, the UN said.

The peace talks are being hosted by the United Nations in the Swiss city of Geneva and come after eight months of conflict between Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels aligned with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

“The consultations will continue in the next few days and seek to define a clear way forward with a special focus on specific areas,” the UN statement said after a third day of talks.

A longer-term ceasefire, the establishment of interim security measures and the withdrawal of rebel forces were among the goals of an inclusive political dialogue, the statement said.

Yemen’s government and military are being supported by a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition and pro-government troops, including fighters from an umbrella group called the Southern Resistance. The Houthis are backed by Iran.

On Thursday, state news agency Wam announced that the Emirates Red Crescent has provided a large number of oxygen cylinders to hospitals in Taez province to treat war injured. The province has been fiercely fought over between rebels and government loyalists for months. The capital, Taez city, has suffered a brutal months-long Houthi siege with basic food and medical aid unable to be delivered.

Meanwhile, some 280 government loyalists released in a prisoner swap that began on Wednesday and finished early on Thursday, visited Al Arodh Square in Aden, a southern port city liberated in July from the Houthis. Two hundred and ninety Houthi detainees were released in exchange for the group. The swap took place in Lahij province, just north of Sanaa.

“After several interviews with sheikhs and organisations in Sanaa and Aden, we visited the prisons of the Southern Resistance and the Houthis and there was an agreement that the Houthis release all of the southern detainees and the Southern Resistance release all of the Houthis and this is what we did,” said Hakim Al Hasani who headed the months-long mediation to conduct the prisoner exchange.

Mr Al Hasani said the detainees held by the Houthis included children.

“There are some southern citizens still lost who we did not find in the Houthis’ prisons,” he added.

Shadi Mahmoud, a released prisoner, told The National that he considered the day as his birthday.

“The Houthis did not treat us well and I thought that they will not release us, but they resorted to release us after the southern resistance forced them to and due to the release of the Houthi detainees,” he said.

Salam Al Murshdi, 37, was a pro-government fighter detained while trying to defend Al Anad airbase in Lahij province from the rebels.

“When the Houthis detained us in Al Anad airbase, they kept us there for a month and a half. Then they took us in cars while we were blindfolded, and after travelling for 12 hours, we found ourselves to be in the central prison in Sanaa,” Mr Al Murshdi said, while taking part in the celebrations in Aden.

He said that in prison the Houthis did not feed them well and did not treat the sick, adding that several of his fellow fighters remain missing.

The Houthis still hold high-profile prisoners, including former Yemeni defence minister Mahmoud Al Sobaihi. Disputes over the release of key prisoners are proving a stumbling block in the Geneva negotiations.

Meanwhile, pro-government forces drove the rebels out of the Mas military camp in Marib province’s Magzar district.

At least 12 pro-government forces were killed and 30 wounded, along with “many victims among the rebels”, according to military sources.

Brigadier general Murad Turaiq told The National that pro-government forces were now clearing the area of rebels.

“Twenty fighters of the resistance and the army have been killed in the liberation of the camp and around forty others injured, while dozens of the Houthis have been killed and injured, another five detained,” Brig Gen Turaiq.

He said that Mas camp was one of the main obstacles in the advance towards Fordhat Nihm, which is a strategic entry point to Sanaa province.

A fragile ceasefire was declared by government forces on Tuesday, though sporadic violence continues on the ground.

Nearly 6,000 people have been killed in the fighting since March, according to the United Nations.

* with additional reporting by Reuters, Agence France-Presse