10/16/2020, 10.12
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Yemen: Prisoner exchange feeds hopes for peace

Under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross, operations involving Houthi rebels and pro-Saudi government have begun. The agreement, reached last month in Switzerland, is the most important with a view to detente between the parties. Two US hostages freed and the remains returned of a third, who died during his imprisonment.

Sana'a (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Hundreds of prisoners have been released in these hours as part of an prisoner exchange between the warring parties in Yemen, the most important operation with a view to peace and detente since the beginning of the conflict in the spring of 2015. The agreement, reached during UN-sponsored talks in Switzerland last month, foresees more than 600 Houthi rebels and 400 pro-government hostages within the next two days.

In recent days, Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen have also released two US prisoners, long in their hands; at the same time, around 200 Houthis were able to return from Oman, where they had gone in the past to receive medical treatment.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (CIR), which supervises the operations, reports that yesterday morning five planes of its fleet left from the towns of Abha, Sanaa and Seiyoun, under the control of the Houthis, loaded with prisoners. UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths stresses that the agreement represents "another sign that a dialogue of peace can be pursued". He also hopes to be able to enter into another negotiation aimed at the release of prisoners still in the hands of their respective fighting fronts.

In 2018 the two parties had signed the release of 15 thousand hostages, but the agreement has never found practical application.

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.  The coronavirus pandemic has had even more devastating impact with a healthcare system that has collapsed. Millions of people are on the verge of starvation and experts say children will suffer the consequences for the next 20 years.

Finally, in these hours US government sources confirm the release of two compatriots: one of them is Sandra Loli, a humanitarian worker for three years in the hands of her kidnappers, and the businessman Mikael Gidada, kidnapped a year ago. The rebels also returned the remains of a third hostage, Bilal Fateen, who died during his imprisonment.

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