Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A freed Saudi-led coalition prisoner hugs a relative after his release in a prisoner swap, at Sayoun airport, Yemen, on Oct. 15, 2020.


Yemen’s warring sides on Thursday kicked off a long-awaited, U.N.-brokered prisoner exchange, an unprecedented release of detainees amid a conflict that has spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The exchange came a day after Yemen’s Iran-backed rebels freed two Americans and released the remains of a third who had died in captivity. It wasn’t immediately clear if the swap, which has been planned for over a year, was related to the freeing of the Americans on Wednesday.

The release is part of a U.N.-mediated deal between the rebel Houthis and a Saudi-backed coalition supporting Yemen’s internationally recognized government in the yearslong civil war. More than 1,000 prisoner are expected to be exchanged in a swap, which will continue through Friday.

Story continues below advertisement

The conflict in the Arab world’s poorest country erupted in 2014, when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north. The Saudi-led coalition, backed by the U.S., launched a military intervention months later to restore Yemeni President Abed Rabu Mansour Hadi’s government to power.

The International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen, which co-ordinates the swap, said a total of 700 prisoners from both sides were freed on Thursday. Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC’s regional director for the Middle East, said the operation was “a good first step towards building the confidence needed between parties to the conflict.”

A rebel-run satellite TV channel broadcast the start of the swap, as three planes carrying freed Houthi prisoners touched down in Sanaa. The men kneeled on the tarmac, bowed their heads to the ground in prayer and embraced relatives.

Another two planes took off from Sanaa, one carrying freed Yemeni government prisoners and another carrying 15 Saudis and four Sudanese who had fought alongside government forces, the Houthis' Al-Masirah TV said. The planes later landed at Seyun airport in southern Yemen and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.

Last month, the U.N. announced that the Houthis and the government side had agreed to exchange more than 1,000 prisoners, marking the first phase of a prisoner-release plan reached earlier this year.

“Since this morning, the skies of Yemen have seen an airlift of hope,” U.N. special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday. He called for civilians arbitrarily detained during the war to also be released, including journalists and political prisoners.

Griffiths told reporters the exchange would be the largest run by ICRC since the Korean War and estimated there are thousands more prisoners who remain captive by both sides.

Story continues below advertisement

Hundreds of Houthi politicians and military commanders lined up on the tarmac in Sanaa, where a red carpet was rolled out and a military band played. As the released rebels disembarked, all in white robes, they raised clenched fists and chanted “God is Great,” and “Death to America and Israel” – a common Houthi chant that identifies their movement with that of Iran’s government, with Israel as the regional enemy.

Later Thursday, the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV aired live footage of freed Yemeni government prisoners disembarking from their plane in Seyun in eastern province of Hadramawt, which is controlled by forces loyal to Yemen’s Saudi-backed government.

Earlier, Abdel Qader Mortada, the head of the Houthi Committee for Prisoners Affairs, told reporters that another 200 Houthi rebels and 150 government prisoners are expected to be released on Friday.

The prisoner-swap deal was seen as a breakthrough during 2018 U.N.-brokered peace talks in Sweden. Both parties agreed then to several confidence-building measures, including a cease-fire in the strategic port city of Hodeida. Implementation of the tentative peace plan, however, stumbled amid ongoing military offensives and distrust between the two sides.

Houthi Information Minister Daif Allah al-Shamy hailed the swap as “a huge step” and said the rebels will seek further exchanges.

Occasional releases of dozens of prisoners over the past two years have served as gestures of good faith, stoking hopes the factions would implement what the U.N. has described as the war’s “first official large-scale” exchange. The two sides committed earlier this year to swap over 1,400 detainees.

Story continues below advertisement

On Wednesday, the Houthis freed U.S. citizens Sandra Loli and Mikael Gidada and released the remains of Bilal Fateen, the White House and officials in the region said. That development was apparently the result of mediation by Oman, which has acted as a mediator in the Mideast.

Kieran Ramsey, director of the administration’s hostage recovery cell, said Loli and Gidada would soon be on their way back to the United States. Kash Patel, a deputy assistant to President Donald Trump who worked on the deal, told The Wall Street Journal that Loli had been held by the Houthis for about three years and Gidada was held captive for about a year.

The Houthis, who did not comment on the release of the Americans, said Wednesday about 240 rebels returned to Sanaa on two Omani flights. Among the returnees were wounded rebels who travelled to Muscat during peace talks in Sweden two years ago.

The war in Yemen has left millions suffering from food and medical shortages. It has killed more than 112,000 people, including fighters and civilians, according to a database project that tracks violence.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies