Rare Saudi visit to rebel-held Yemen to discuss prisoner swap
A Saudi delegation visited the rebel-held Yemeni capital while a rebel delegation visited the kingdom in a flurry of diplomacy to hammer out a prisoner exchange, the two sides said Thursday.
Such visits have been rare since a Saudi-backed coalition launched a military intervention in neighbouring Yemen in 2015 to support the beleaguered government against Iran-backed Huthi rebels.
The head of the rebels’ National Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs, Abdul Qader al-Murtada, said it had “received a Saudi technical delegation” in the capital Sanaa.
He said the aim of the visit was to “see the conditions of their prisoners… verify their names and prepare for an exchange… in the near future”.
A Huthi 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 Huthis, exchanged visits… to detainees of both sides as a goodwill initiative under confidence-building and truce extension efforts in Yemen,” he said.
A ceasefire that had sharply reduced the bloodshed for six months expired earlier this month after the warring sides failed to reach agreement on a new extension.
“This is a humanitarian visit that handles the detainee issue in a purely humanitarian approach, and was made possible as one of the gains of the truce and the efforts to extend it,” Malki said.
Footage distributed by the Huthi rebels showed members of the Saudi delegation getting off a United Nations plane at Sanaa airport and shaking hands with rebel officials, before heading to meet prisoners.
There has been no public word on the number of Saudi prisoners in rebel jails.
Speaking by video link to the UN Security Council on Thursday, UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg pleaded for a renewal of the truce.
“The parties have shown restraint since the expiration of the truce on October 2, as we have fortunately not witnessed any major escalation,” he said.