Saudi and Yemenis freed in prisoner swap deal
Saudi Arabia has released seven Yemeni prisoners in exchange for one of its soldiers, the kingdom’s news agency reported.
The report on Wednesday marked the first announced prisoner swap since a coalition of Arab countries went to war against rebels in Yemen nearly a year ago.
The swap and an apparent truce along the Saudi-Yemen border follows unprecedented talks between the sides.
The media statement, carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) , did not specify if the Houthis had been holding the soldier who was released.
SPA said Yemeni tribal leaders coordinated the swap which led to the release of Corporal Jaber al-Kaabi. It also said Yemeni tribal figures helped facilitate the delivery of aid across the border into Yemeni villages.
The seven Yemenis had been detained in areas of military operations near the border, the report added, but did not give details on when the Yemenis and the solider had been detained nor where the exchange took place.
Mohammed Ali al-Emad, a brother of a top Houthi politician with knowledge about the talks, told The Associated Press news agency that recent communication is aimed at paving the way for possible ceasefire negotiations because the warring sides “have realised that war so far has failed to force any of the two to retreat”.
Analysts said that the agreement was the first important step towards finding a resolution to the conflict, which the United Nations says has killed more than 6,000 people, left almost 8 million without a regular supply of food, and forced 3.4 million children our of school.
“This is one of the most significant breakthroughs” since coalition operations began, said Adam Baron, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Al-Qaeda fighters, the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant group (ISIL), also known as ISIS, southern separatists, and other armed groups have capitalised on the chaos of Yemen’s civil war.
Also on Wednesday, in an apparent effort to ease tensions, a senior Houthi official posted a Facebook message telling Iranian officials to stay out of Yemen’s conflict, a day after an Iranian general said Tehran could send military advisers to help Houthi forces fighting the coalition.
“Officials in the Islamic Republic of Iran must be silent and leave aside the exploitation of the Yemen file,” the official, Yousef al-Feshi, a member of the Houthis’ Revolutionary Committee, said in the posting.
Fighting in Aden
The Saudi military and the rebels, known as Houthis, frequently clash along the kingdom’s southern border with Yemen.
The Yemeni capital of Sanaa – taken over by the Houthis in 2014 – and the northern region of the country where Houthis are in control have been relatively calm in recent days.
But in Aden on Wednesday, clashes erupted between the guards at a presidential palace and gunmen who were recently let go from the presidential guard.
The gunmen attacked the guards and insisted they return to their jobs even if by force, security officials said.
As the attack unfolded, several families left the area after a mortar fell on one of the houses.
Ambulances ferried three wounded civilians to hospital, according to medical officials, while loud explosions were heard in the area. Both the medical and security officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to talk to reporters.