Houthis announce release of 350 prisoners

Houthi rebels have announced the unconditional release of 350 prisoners, including three Saudi Arabians, days after the Yemeni group claimed to have captured thousands of Saudi troops following an incursion into Saudi Arabia, according to Houthi-run Al Masirah TV.

A statement by the Houthi National Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs (NCPA) carried by Al Masirah TV said the individuals were on the list of persons drawn up as part of the prisoner exchange deal agreed in Stockholm in December.

The United Nations-brokered prisoner swap, one of the three pillars of the breakthrough deal, involving some 7,000 detainees on each side had stalled as the two sides – the Houthis and the Yemeni government – struggled to agree on its implementation.

“Our initiative proves our credibility in implementing the Sweden agreement and we call on the other party to take a comparable step,” said Abdul Qader al-Murtada, head of the NCPA, in the statement carried by the Houthi-run broadcaster.

“We decided to release 350 prisoners because nothing from Sweden agreement have been achieved. The release is going take place today,” the NCPA statement read.

The detainees were taken in Houthi raids since 2014, when the rebels overran the capital, Sanaa, and much of the north.

The UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths – who supervised the Stockholm agreement – welcomed the offer to unilaterally release a number of detainees, saying he hoped it would lead to further progress on an agreed prisoner exchange deal.

The Iran-linked group said the release of the prisoners was a gesture of goodwill to the Saudi-UAE coalition, which has carried out the bombing in support of the internationally recognised government of Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi since 2015.

Al-Murtada said at a news conference on Monday that the group includes three Saudis who will be sent home under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

He urged the UN to pressure the government to take a similar step.