Yemen warring sides agree to exchange 1,081 prisoners

The deal came after a week-long fourth meeting of the Supervisory Committee on the Implementation of the Prisoners’ Exchange Agreement. (Courtesy: UN)
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Updated 25 October 2020

Yemen warring sides agree to exchange 1,081 prisoners

  • The Houthis will release 400 prisoners while the Yemeni government will free 681 Houthi fighters in the first exchange
  • If agreed, the second group of the prisoner swap will include President Hadi’s brother

DUBAI: Saudi-led coalition forces and Iran-backed Houthi militias reached an agreement on Sunday on the largest prisoner swap since the conflict in Yemen began in 2015.

The Houthis will release 400 coalition prisoners and the Yemeni government will free 681 Houthi fighters. 

The deal follows a week of talks in Switzerland and builds on the release plan that the two sides agreed in Amman in February.

There are four high-profile prisoners in the agreement, including Gen. Nasser Mansour Hadi, brother of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. He will be in the yet-to-be-agreed second phase of the exchange of about 350 people.

The Yemeni president had been reluctant to agree to the prisoner swap until the second group that included his brother was agreed, a diplomatic source told Arab News.

Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman had to personally persuade Hadi to agree to the 1,081 prisoners exchanged, the source said. 

Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy for Yemen, said he wanted to build on the agreement to pave the way for a national cease-fire and a political solution to end  the war. “I was told that it’s very rare to have prisoner releases of this scale during the conflict, that they mostly happen after a conflict,” he said. “I urge the parties to move forward immediately with the release and to spare no effort in building upon this momentum to swiftly agree to release more detainees.”
“Our overall aim at the moment is to bring an agreement on what we call a joint declaration, which is a national cease-fire to end the war in Yemen.”

Griffiths and an official from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are in Switzerland leading a committee overseeing a prisoner swap deal first agreed at peace talks in Dec. 2018.

The next step would be measures to open up ports, airports, and roads, Griffiths said. “This achievement here I think will undoubtedly have a bounce effect for that, that it will encourage the parties to go the extra mile to resolve final differences.
“So what we will be looking to do as a result of the announcement here today is in the coming days ... to go and visit the parties to finalize the specifics of that agreement. And it’s important because it ends the war.”

Fabrizio Carboni, the ICRC Middle East regional director, said the agreement was "a positive step for hundreds of detainees and their families back home who have been separated for years and will be reunited soon."

"We call on all parties to continue with the same urgency towards agreeing on a concrete implementation plan, so this operation can move from signatures on paper to reality on the ground," he said.

The Sweden deal contained a prisoner swap which aimed for the release of some 15,000 detainees, split between both sides, but has been slowly and only partially implemented.

The Houthis last year freed 290 prisoners and Saudi Arabia released 128, while a locally mediated swap in Taiz governorate saw dozens freed. In January 2020, the ICRC facilitated the release of six Saudis held by the Houthis.

Yemeni Minister of Human Rights, Mohamed Askar, said he hoped that the latest prisoner exchanged agreement would lead to peace in Yemen and end to human rights violations after six years of war.

“We will continue efforts to alleviate the suffering of our people and…to achieve permanent and comprehensive peace for all Yemenis,” Askar said in a tweet shortly after the deal was announced.

Elisabeth Kendall, Yemen analyst and research fellow at University of Oxford, said that although the deal was a long way from the 16,000 prisoners that was reportedly agreed in Stockholm at the end of 2018, it is a move in the right direction.

“This step has to be viewed positively, given how polarized the warring sides now are and how intractable the conflict has become,” Kendall told Arab News.

However, she cautioned that this “trust-building measure” will only be effective if it is implemented, as previous failed agreements have led to mistrust between the warring sides.  

“A prisoner swap is nowhere even close to tackling the vast gap that needs to be closed between the warring sides before peace talks can get underway.”

(With Reuters)


US allows Jerusalem-born citizens to put Israel on passports

Updated 25 min 21 sec ago

US allows Jerusalem-born citizens to put Israel on passports

  • Jerusalem-born Americans will be able to specify either Israel or Jerusalem as their place of birth on passports and official documents
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the new passport policy was in keeping with the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

JERUSALEM: The United States will allow Americans born in disputed Jerusalem to list Israel as their place of birth on passports and other documents, according to a new policy announced Thursday.

The move came a day after the United States amended science accords signed with Israel to apply to institutions in the occupied West Bank. The changes, enacted days before the US election, appeared to be aimed at shoring up the support of evangelical Christians and other Israel backers.

President Donald Trump’s administration broke with decades of US policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and later moving the embassy there from Tel Aviv, where most other countries maintain their missions.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war along with the West Bank, territories the Palestinians seek as part of their future state. Israel considers the entire city its capital while the Palestinians want their own capital in east Jerusalem.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the new passport policy was in keeping with the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Jerusalem-born Americans will be able to specify either “Israel” or “Jerusalem” as their place of birth on passports and official documents.

Those who do not specify their place of birth will be listed as having been born in Jerusalem.

Trump released a plan to resolve the Middle East conflict in January that was rejected by the Palestinians.

The administration has succeeded, however, in improving ties between Israel and other Arab nations. In recent weeks the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan have agreed to normalize relations with Israel, giving Trump a string of foreign policy achievements ahead of the vote.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper visited Israel on Thursday and met with top Israeli officials.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who visited Washington last week, said he was “deeply appreciative of our dialogue, which has ensured that Israel now has the tools it needs to contend with destabilizing forces in the region.”