10/01/2019, 10.35
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The Houthi rebels release 290 detainees, including three Saudi citizens

The decision is part of the peace initiatives promoted by the UN under the Stockholm agreement. The released include 42 survivors of an air raid by the pro-Saudi coalition against a prison in Dhamar. The two sides have committed to release about 7 thousand prisoners.

Sana'a (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Houthi rebels in Yemen have decided to unilaterally release at least 290 detainees, say the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The NGO says the decision is part of the peace initiatives promoted by the United Nations.

The released would include 42 survivors of an air raid on a prison in Dhamar, in the western part of the country, last month, in which over 100 people died. The attack was reportedly led by the Saudi-led Arab coalition, which supports the internationally recognized Yemen government.

The UN special envoy hopes that the step taken by Iranian-backed rebels will act as a viaticum for the release of other prisoners on both fronts. In fact, the release of prisoners is part of the peace process promoted by the United Nations to end the conflict.

The agreement - reached in Sweden in December with the UN mediation - considers the exchange of prisoners among the Houthis, who control Sana'a and much of western Yemen, a priority, and the Yemeni government supported on a military level by a coalition formed in March 2015 by Saudi Arabia.

Yesterday Abdul Qader al-Murtada, head of the Houthi Committee for prisoners' affairs, had announced the release of 350 detainees during the day, including three Saudi citizens. "The initiative - he says - shows our credibility in applying the Swedish agreement and we invite the other party to take a similar step". The two sides have committed to release about 7 thousand prisoners, but the implementation of this promise is slow to materialize.

The ICRC declined to provide details on the identity of the detainees, in addition to referring to survivors of the Dhamar attack. "The release is a positive step that will hopefully revive the release, transfer and repatriation of conflict-related detainees as per the Stockholm agreement," a statement said.

"I invite the parties to meet in the nearest opportunity and to resume the discussions on future exchange as per their commitments to the Stockholm agreement," he said. 

The announcement of the Houhi has reached a day after the killing of over 200 pro-Saudi fighters and the capture of another 2 thousand, in the context of an attack in the province of Najran, along the border with the Wahhabi kingdom.

The war in Yemen began in 2014 as an internal conflict between pro-Saudi government and Shiite Houthi rebels close to Iran. It degenerated in March 2015 with the intervention of the Arab coalition led by Riyadh and has registered over 10 thousand dead and 55 thousand injured. Independent bodies set the toll  (between January 2016 and the end of July 2018) at about 57 thousand deaths.

For the UN the conflict has triggered "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world", about 24 million Yemenis (80% of the population) urgently need humanitarian assistance and the cholera emergency is still of concern. It is estimated that there around 2500 child soldiers and half of the girls are married before the age of 15.


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