In this Nov 24, 2021 file photo, armed Houthi fighters attend the funeral procession of Houthi rebel fighters who were killed in recent fighting with forces of Yemen's internationally recognized government, in Sanaa, Yemen. (PHOTO / AP)
DUBAI / GENEVA - The two sides in Yemen's conflict 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.
The deal which comes ahead of Ramadan adds to optimism for further releases and a final resolution to the conflict following the resumption of ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia this month.
"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.
Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group said it would release 181 detainees, including 15 Saudis and three Sudanese, in exchange for 706 prisoners to be freed by the government, according to earlier statements on Twitter by the head of the Houthis' prisoner affairs committee, Abdul Qader al-Murtada, and the group's chief negotiator, Mohammed Abdulsalam
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 has left more than 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.
"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 with the governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group said it would release 181 detainees, including 15 Saudis and three Sudanese, in exchange for 706 prisoners to be freed by the government, according to earlier statements on Twitter by the head of the Houthis' prisoner affairs committee, Abdul Qader al-Murtada, and the group's chief negotiator, Mohammed Abdulsalam.
Murtada said the exchange would happen in three weeks' time.
The United Nations and ICRC declined to give a breakdown nor give the timing.
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.
The conflict in Yemen has widely been seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 after the Houthis ousted the government from the capital Sanaa in 2014.
A UN-brokered truce last April has largely held, despite expiring in October without the parties agreeing to extend it.
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