‘Airlift of hope’: Hundreds freed on day 2 of Yemen prisoner swap

‘Airlift of hope’: Hundreds freed on day 2 of Yemen prisoner swap

The Saudi-led military coalition and Yemen's Houthi movement agreed last month in Switzerland to exchange 1,081 prisoners, including 15 Saudis, in the largest swap of its kind in the five-year-old conflict.

Three planes took off from the capital of Sanaa today, carrying coalition fighters.

Huthi-controlled Al-Masirah television said the first group of rebel prisoners was expected to arrive at Sanaa airport later Thursday.

Yemen's warring sides on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, started U.N. -brokered peace consultations in Switzerland to exchange prisoners, the United Nations said, part of a long-delayed deal aiming to end a conflict that has killed thousands of civilians and set off the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

One of the planes was carrying Saudi and Sudanese detainees and flew to Saudi Arabia. The Yemeni government and Houthi militia on Thursday began a long-awaited large swap of prisoners as a major breakthrough in peace efforts. It said the plane coming from Sanaa airport carried 15 Saudis and four Sudanese.

The White House announced the release of United States citizens Sandra Loli and Mikael Gidada, saying that the two had been held captive by the Iranian-backed Huthi rebels who control much of Yemen including its capital Sanaa.

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He added that the White House is continuing its efforts to recover the body of a third American citizen named "Bilal Fateen", who died during his detention, and the cause of death was not known yet.

According to the newspaper, Saudi officials said they were reluctant to back the deal because it would allow dozens of Houthi militants trained on advanced drones and missiles to return to the battle zone.

ICRC, acting as a neutral intermediary, deployed more than 70 staff and volunteers who conducted medical checks - including providing protective equipment and other measures to guard against the risk of coronavirus infection - and held one-on-one interviews to ensure the detainees wanted to be sent home.

The exchange of prisoners was not officially called a swap as US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien stopped short of calling it a swap.

Aircraft arranged by the International Committee of the Red Cross shuttled between Sanaa and Yemen's second city Aden, seat of the Saudi-backed government, on Friday, ferrying released prisoners.

Talk of ending the war has mostly centered on a power-sharing deal for Yemen among the Houthis and the Saudi-backed government, though the government has resisted sharing, and the UAE-backed separatists are keen to see a resolution in which Yemen is split along historical north and south lines.

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