Yemen Govt, Houthis to Release 887 Prisoners in UN-mediated Agreement

Officials are seen at the prisoner exchange talks in Bern. (Twitter)
Officials are seen at the prisoner exchange talks in Bern. (Twitter)
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Yemen Govt, Houthis to Release 887 Prisoners in UN-mediated Agreement

Officials are seen at the prisoner exchange talks in Bern. (Twitter)
Officials are seen at the prisoner exchange talks in Bern. (Twitter)

The Yemeni government and Iran-backed Houthi militias agreed to free 887 detainees and to meet again in May after 10 days of negotiations in Switzerland, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Monday.

"It's an expression of hope. It's an expression of humanity and it indicates the way ahead for all parties to the conflict," said Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC regional director for the Middle East, who was seated between the two delegations.

UN special envoy Hans Grundberg said the deal was one of several developments that gave reason to believe things were moving "in the right direction" and towards a resolution of the eight-year conflict that was sparked by the Houthi coup against the legitimate government.

"From the discussions, I feel that there is a willingness to engage in a positive direction on trying to come to a settlement on the conflict in Yemen," he added, referring to his talks in the past week in Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The government welcomed Monday’s agreement, saying the exchange will be held within three weeks.

The agreement caps seven rounds of talks over the release of captives that include 181 people affiliated with the government and Saudi-led Arab coalition and 706 Houthis, the majority of whom were captured during battle.

Former defense minister Mahmoud al-Subaihi; Nasser Mansour Hadi, brother of former president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi; Mohammed and Afash Saleh, relatives of Presidential Leadership Council member Tariq Saleh; four journalists who were sentenced to death by the Houthis; and 19 members of the Arab coalition forces will be released by the Houthis.

Negotiators had hoped for an "all for all" deal involving all remaining detainees during the 10 days of talks held near the Swiss capital Bern. The talks were the latest in a series of meetings that led to releases of prisoners in 2022 and 2020 under a UN-mediated deal known as the Stockholm Agreement.

A Yemeni Foreign Ministry statement urged further talks to ensure the release of remaining detainees. It also called for revealing the fate of people who have been abducted.

It praised the role played by Grundberg, the Red Cross and Arab coalition in reaching the agreement.

A joint statement from the UN and the ICRC said the parties also agreed to carry out "joint visits to each other’s detention centers and to enable access to all detainees during these visits."

"This is a crucial step that will end the suffering of many separated families and help build confidence between the parties that we hope will lead to further release operations," said Daphnée Maret, head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen.

Head of the Houthis' prisoner affairs committee Abdul Qader al-Murtada said the exchange would happen in three weeks’ time.



Food Piles Up at Gaza Crossing as Aid Agencies Say Unable to Work

Humanitarian aid for Gaza has piled up at a crucial border crossing - AFP
Humanitarian aid for Gaza has piled up at a crucial border crossing - AFP
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Food Piles Up at Gaza Crossing as Aid Agencies Say Unable to Work

Humanitarian aid for Gaza has piled up at a crucial border crossing - AFP
Humanitarian aid for Gaza has piled up at a crucial border crossing - AFP

Days after Israel announced a daily pause in fighting on a key route to allow more aid into Gaza, chaos in the besieged Palestinian territory has left vital supplies piled up and undistributed in the searing summer heat, AFP reported.

More than eight months of war, sparked by Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and repeated UN warnings of famine.

Desperation among Gaza's 2.4 million population has increased as fighting rages, sparking warnings from agencies that they are unable to deliver aid.

Israel says it has let supplies in and called on agencies to step up deliveries.

"The breakdown of public order and safety is increasingly endangering humanitarian workers and operations in Gaza," the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, said in a briefing late Friday.

"Alongside the fighting, criminal activities and the risk of theft and robbery has effectively prevented humanitarian access to critical locations."

But Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks of aid into southern Gaza, trading blame with the United Nations over why the aid is stacking up.

It shared aerial footage of containers lined up on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing and more trucks arriving to add to the stockpile.

With civil order breaking down in Gaza, the UN says it has been unable to pick up any supplies from Kerem Shalom since Tuesday, leaving crucial aid in limbo.

A deputy UN spokesman this week said the crossing "is operating with limited functionality, including because of fighting in the area".

William Schomburg, International Committee of the Red Cross chief in Rafah, said arranging lorries from the Egyptian side in particular was complicated.

"It's not just a question of civil order, but also the fact that you often have to cross battlefields," he said in an online briefing, adding that the area near Kerem Shalom had been hostile.

"There were even rockets fired nearby. So this whole area is particularly complicated to navigate for reasons linked to the hostilities and for reasons linked to general security."

Israel's coordinator for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, known as COGAT, said Thursday "the content of 1,200 aid trucks awaits collection by UN aid agencies", saying a lack of distribution was responsible.

Earlier in the week, COGAT spokesman Shimon Freedman told reporters at the crossing the daily pause on a southern road into Gaza was designed to allow the UN "to collect and distribute more aid" alongside an Israeli military presence.

He said most of the aid had not moved because "organizations have not taken sufficient steps to improve their distribution capacity".

Aid agencies have instead pointed to Israel's offensive on the southern city of Rafah, which pushed out more than a million people and closed a border crossing with Egypt, as a deepening humanitarian crisis hampered relief efforts.

Schomburg described Rafah City as a "ghost town".

"It is a ghost town in the sense that you see very few people, high levels of destruction, and really just another symbol of the unfolding tragedy that has become Gaza over the last nine months," he said.

The UN food agency has said its aid convoys have been looted inside Gaza by "desperate people".

As both sides stall, it is the civilians in Gaza who are paying the price.

"We don't see any aid. Everything we get to eat comes from our own money and it's all very expensive," said Umm Mohammad Zamlat, 66, from northern Gaza but now living in Khan Yunis in the south.

"Even agencies specialized in aid deliveries are not able to provide anything to us," she added.