SANAA/GENEVA – Planes carrying prisoners exchanged by the warring parties in Yemen are set to take off on Thursday in an operation to return about 1,000 men home across the front lines, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
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 since peace talks in December 2018 that have since stalled.
“The ICRC teams are present in different airports. The preparations are ongoing,” spokesperson of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Yara Khaweja told Reuters. “If everything goes as planned, the release operation will hopefully happen in the coming few hours.”
An ICRC airplane which is expected to carry Houthis released from captivity by the coalition has landed in Sayoun airport in the government-held Hadramout region, a Reuters witness said.
Two other airplanes expected to take members of the Saudi-led coalition freed from detention by the Houthis landed in Sanaa airport, Reuters witnesses said.
Under the deal, the Iran-aligned Houthi group would release around 400 people, including 15 Saudi soldiers and four Sudanese, while the coalition would free 681 Houthi fighters in the a trust-building measure aimed at reviving peace talks.
Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Houthis ousted the internationally recognised government from power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting the Western-backed coalition to intervene in March 2015.
The conflict, seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been in military stalemate for years with the Houthis holding Sanaa and most big urban centres.
The war has killed more than 100,000 people and spawned what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.