Friday, October 27, 2023

Saudi Arabia Frees 13 Houthis, Oman Seeks New Truce


The ongoing conflict in Yemen may finally be coming to an end, as Saudi Arabia and the Houthi rebels have agreed to a prisoner exchange and are set to negotiate a permanent ceasefire deal. The release of more than a dozen Houthi detainees by Saudi Arabia on Saturday was part of a wider prisoner release agreed by both sides. This move came as Omani officials arrived in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, to participate in talks aimed at ending the years-long conflict.

Abdul-Qader el-Murtaza, a Houthi official in charge of prisoner exchange talks in Yemen’s conflict, announced on Twitter that 13 Houthi prisoners had arrived in Sanaa. He stated that the prisoners were released in exchange for a Saudi prisoner who had been freed earlier by the Houthis. However, he did not specify when the rebels had released the Saudi prisoner. The Saudi government has not yet commented on the matter.

According to al-Murtaza, “The detainees released today from Saudi prisons are part of the deal agreed via the United Nations, and next Thursday … the deal will be fully implemented.” This refers to a UN-brokered deal that was struck in Switzerland last month, which includes the release of 887 detainees.

The UN special envoy to Yemen has hailed this development as one of several reflecting movement towards ending the eight-year conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. The conflict began in 2014, when the Houthis seized Sanaa and much of the country’s north, toppling the internationally recognized government that fled to the south and then into exile in Saudi Arabia. The Houthi move prompted a Saudi-led coalition to intervene months later in a bid to restore the internationally recognized government to power. The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The prisoner exchange comes as Saudi and Omani envoys are expected to meet in Sanaa to negotiate a permanent ceasefire deal with Houthi officials, building on an expired UN-brokered truce agreement. Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdul Salam, who is based in Muscat, announced on Twitter on Saturday that he had arrived in Sanaa with an Omani delegation. The Houthi-run al-Masirah TV reported that a Saudi delegation, led by the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed bin Saeed Al-Jaber, would visit Sanaa on Sunday for talks with the Houthis.

Oman has been hosting talks between the Iranian-backed Houthis and Saudi Arabia for years. These negotiations, which run in parallel to the UN peace efforts, have gained momentum in recent weeks after Saudi Arabia reached an agreement with Iran to restore their diplomatic ties after a seven-year rift. The Iran-Saudi deal, announced in Beijing on March 10, has invigorated hopes of a settlement to Yemen’s conflict.

Latest stories