Saudi-led coalition says to free 200 Yemen rebels amid peace push
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Riyadh (AFP) –
The Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen's Huthi rebels said Tuesday it will release 200 insurgents, as efforts pick up pace to end the conflict in the impoverished country.
Patients needing medical care will also be allowed to be flown out of Sanaa airport, which has been closed to commercial flights since 2016, coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki said, quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
The coalition had decided "to release 200 prisoners of the Huthi militia" and to facilitate "in cooperation with the World Health Organization flights carrying people in need of medical care from Sanaa".
The initiative coincides with a lull in Huthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and after a senior official in Riyadh said the kingdom had established an "open channel" with the rebels.
"We have had an open channel with the Huthis since 2016. We are continuing these communications to support peace in Yemen," the official told reporters in the Saudi capital.
"We don't close our doors with the Huthis," he said.
The official declined to be identified and did not elaborate, but the development came after a lull in recent weeks following a spike in rebel missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities over the summer.
The comment comes after Saudi Arabia separately brokered a power-sharing agreement between the Yemeni government and southern separatists.
Last Friday, UN envoy Martin Griffiths said the rate of coalition air strikes had sharply fallen over the past two weeks, in an apparent sign that "something is changing in Yemen".
On Monday, however, coalition air raids killed eight Huthi rebels near the key western port of Hodeidah, local officials said.
Yemen's warring parties agreed under a deal brokered in Sweden last December to exchange 15,000 prisoners, but the accord has not been fully implemented.
The coalition freed seven Huthi prisoners in January, and the rebels released 290 coalition fighters in September.
The Huthi rebels hold the capital Sanaa while the Saudi led-military coalition controls Yemen's maritime borders and airspace.
Sanaa airport has been closed for the past three years, with only UN and humanitarian flights allowed in and out.
Last year, wounded rebels were flown out of Sanaa for treatment, in what was seen as a key step ahead of the December peace talks.
Maliki said on Monday the coalition's latest initiative was an attempt to resolve the crisis in Yemen, where it intervened in 2015 in support of the country's internationally recognised government.
Since the intervention, tens of thousands of people have died in Yemen, contributing to what the United Nations has termed the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
© 2019 AFP