Saudi visit to Sanaa aims to discuss prisoner swap
The head of the Houthis’ National Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs, Abdul Qader Al-Murtada, said he had “received a Saudi technical delegation” in the capital Sanaa.
Houthi rebels control Yemen’s capital, Sanaa [MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP via Getty Images-file photo]
A Saudi delegation visited the rebel-held Yemeni capital while a rebel delegation traveled to the kingdom in a wave of diplomacy to arrange a prisoner swap, the two sides said on Thursday.
Such visits have been rare since a Saudi-backed coalition launched a military intervention in neighboring Yemen in 2015 to bolster the embattled government against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
The head of the rebels’ National Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs, Abdul Qader Al-Murtada, said he “received a Saudi technical delegation” in the capital Sanaa.
He said the purpose of the visit was to “see the conditions of their prisoners… check their names and prepare for an exchange… in the near future.”
A Houthi delegation is visiting prisons in Saudi Arabia for the same purpose, Murtada said.
Saudi-led coalition spokesman Brigadier General Turki Al-Malki confirmed the visits in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
“Two delegations, from the coalition and the Houthis, exchanged visits…to detainees on both sides as part of a goodwill initiative amid efforts to build confidence and extend the truce in Yemen” , did he declare.
A ceasefire that had sharply reduced bloodshed for six months expired earlier this month after warring parties failed to agree on a further extension.
“This is a humanitarian visit that addresses the issue of detainees in a purely humanitarian approach, and was made possible as one of the gains from the truce and efforts to extend it,” Malki said.
Footage released by the Houthi rebels shows members of the Saudi delegation disembarking from a United Nations plane at Sanaa airport and shaking hands with rebel officials, before proceeding to meet the prisoners.
There has been no public word on the number of Saudi prisoners in rebel prisons.
The Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels have been accused of carrying out serious abuses by rights groups.
Speaking via video link to the UN Security Council on Thursday, UN envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg pleaded for a renewal of the truce.
“The parties have shown restraint since the truce expired on October 2, as fortunately we have not seen a major escalation,” he said.