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Yemen's Houthis to release 350 prisoners, including three Saudis, as part of UN-supervised prisoner exchange

The prisoner exchange will be supervised by the United Nations [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 September, 2019

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Some 350 prisoners captured by Yemen's Houthis will be released under UN supervision as part of a prisoner exchange deal, the rebels said on Monday.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they plan to release 350 prisoners on Monday, in a move that will be supervised by the United Nations.

The rebel movement said three Saudis will be among those listed for release, according to a statement by the head of the Houthis’ prisoner affairs committee, Houthi-run al-Masirah TV reported.

The 350 individuals were on the lists of persons drawn up as part of the prisoner exchange deal agreed in Stockholm in December, the statement added.

The move follows a recent Houthi announcement that it had captured thousands of pro-government fighters as prisoners, including members of Saudi Arabia’s military.

On Sunday, the Houthis said they had killed some 200 pro-government fighters and took 2,000 others prisoner in an August offensive near the southern Saudi region of Najran. 

Just a day earlier, the Houthis had said that officers from Saudi Arabia - which leads a military coalition against the Houthis - were among the captives, but those claims were not repeated in Sunday's televised press conference.

"More than 200 were killed in dozens of (missile and drone) strikes while trying to escape or surrender," Houthi spokesman Yahya Saree said. 

"Over 2,000 fighters were taken prisoner," he added, saying most of them were Yemeni but that they included other prisoners.

He said that the three-day "large-scale" operation was launched on August 25, and showed footage purportedly of the attack, but it was not clear why the announcement was being made weeks later.

The coalition had no response to the Houthi claims Saturday that Saudi troops were among those taken captive.

A Yemeni government source confirmed to AFP that some 200 soldiers were killed in an attack in late August, but that only about 1,300 fighters were still being held, including 280 who were wounded. 

The source said that Yemeni troops were surrounded for four days by the Houthis in the rebels' northern stronghold of Saada province. 

The “enemy soldiers” were captured in the attack that was supported by the movement’s drone, missile and air defence units, a statement by the rebels said.  

A spokesman for the Yemen-based rebels said in a statement that three "enemy military brigades had fallen" in the attack, Reuters news agency reported on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the rebels’s Al Masirah TV said the Houthis had captured "thousands" of enemy troops, including many officers and soldiers of the Saudi army, as well as "hundreds of armoured vehicles".

The Houthis have made a series of big announcements in recent weeks, including an offer to halt drone and ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia as part of efforts to end the long-running war.

The rebels also claimed responsibility for massive September 14 attacks on Saudi oil installations that knocked out half of the OPEC kingpin's production and sent shock waves through world energy markets.

The United States and Saudi Arabia however blamed Iran, saying the strikes were carried out with advanced weaponry that was beyond the capability of the Houthis.

'Heartbreaking'

On Wednesday, Yemen's Houthi rebels said their offer to halt all attacks on Saudi Arabia still stands despite new airstrikes launched by a Riyadh-led coalition fighting the insurgents.

Twenty-two civilians, including children, were killed in air raids earlier this week in Daleh and Amran provinces, the United Nations said.

The strikes came after the Iran-backed Houthis offered to halt drone and ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia as part of efforts to end a war that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.

"The initiative is still on, and we are patient," Hisham Sharaf, the Houthis' foreign minister, told AFP.

"If they want peace, we are for peace. If they don't want peace, they know how we can hit them hard.

According to the UN, seven civilians including women and children from the same family were killed when airstrikes hit a mosque on Monday in the Houthi-held northern province of Amran.

The next day, 15 people including seven children were killed in raids on southern Daleh province, which is partly controlled by the rebel movement.

UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said Wednesday the strikes were "yet another heartbreaking event".

The strikes marked the first major attack believed to have been carried out by the coalition since the Houthis' offer.

Sharaf said the rebels would give the Saudi-led coalition more time.

"We find that they're trying to distract the whole world from our initiative by launching these airstrikes," he said.

"We will give them time even if they're killing our people."

Tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, have been killed since Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in March 2015 in support of the internationally recognised government after the Houthis captured the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

The fighting has displaced millions and left more than two-thirds of the population in need of aid.

The United Nations has described Yemen as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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