Military coalition spokesman Turki al Maliki announces release of Houthi prisoners, says restrictions on air space will be eased to allow flights out of rebel-held airport in capital Sanaa.

A Houthi tribesman holds his weapon during a tribal gathering showing support for the Houthi movement, in Sanaa, Yemen, Saturday, September 21, 2019.
A Houthi tribesman holds his weapon during a tribal gathering showing support for the Houthi movement, in Sanaa, Yemen, Saturday, September 21, 2019. (Hani Mohammed / AP)

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen's Houthi rebels said on Tuesday it has released 200 insurgents, as efforts pick up pace to end the conflict in the impoverished country.

Coalition spokesman Turki al Maliki said it will also allow patients needing medical care to be flown out of Sanaa airport, which has been closed to commercial flights since 2016.

A statement by the coalition carried on Saudi state media said it would ease restrictions on Yemeni air space to allow flights out of the Houthi-held airport in the capital Sanaa, helping evacuate people requiring medical treatment abroad.

"The coalition leadership is keen to continue supporting efforts to resolve the crisis in Yemen and to push forward the Stockholm agreement, including the deal related to the exchange of prisoners," spokesman Colonel al Malki said.

He was referring to a prisoner swap agreed by Yemen's Saudi-backed government and the Houthis last December at peace talks in Sweden that involves thousands of detainees, but which has stalled amid deep mistrust between the warring sides.

Talks with rebels

The alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis, after they ousted the internationally-recognised government from power in Sanaa in late 2014.

Saudi Arabia has been holding informal talks with the Houthis since late September on a ceasefire, sources have said, seeking to exit an unpopular war in which it has taken sole responsibility for military efforts after the exit of its main coalition partner, the United Arab Emirates.

The Houthis had in September unilaterally released 350 prisoners, including three Saudis, after extending an offer to halt cross-border missile and drone strikes on Saudi Arabia if the coalition ended air strikes on Yemen.

The United Nations is trying to restart political negotiations to end the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

The conflict is seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis, who control Sanaa and most big urban centres, say they are fighting a corrupt system.

Source: Reuters