middle east

Yemeni parties fail to reach prisoner exchange deal in Muscat

Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the Houthis have failed to strike a fresh prisoner exchange deal, crushing Yemeni families’ hopes of seeing their detained relatives released.

Officials from the two sides declared on Saturday night that the UN-brokered discussions in Muscat had ended without reaching an agreement on a new prisoner arrangement.

The UN Yemen envoy, Hans Grundberg, announced the end of the dialogue in Muscat, saying that the talks achieved “a significant breakthrough” when the Yemeni government and the Houthis agreed to release prominent politician Mohammed Qahtan, a point of contention between the two sides.

The government and militia agreed to meet again to approve the names of detainees set for release.

“Thousands of Yemenis are waiting to be reunited with their loved ones. Despite the positive progress, much more needs to be done, and faster, to provide relief to the suffering families,” Grundberg said in a statement.

Despite accusing the Houthis of attempting to derail the prisoner swap talks, Majed Fadhail, a spokesperson for the government delegation, also spoke of “some breakthroughs” in issues concerning war prisoners and forcibly disappeared people.

The government had agreed with the Houthis to return for a “supplementary” round of talks in two months, he added.

Last week, the Yemeni government and Grundberg expressed confidence about the negotiation progress after the Houthis agreed to exchange Qahtan for 50 of their inmates, removing a key impediment to the discussions.

In a post on X, Abdulkader Al-Murtada, head of the Houthi National Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs, said that during the discussions, the militia settled its dispute with the Yemeni government over the release of Qahtan and swapped prospective names of prisoners for release, citing “time constraints” as the reason for the termination of the talks.

The latest round of UN-sponsored negotiations between the Yemeni government and the Houthis started last Sunday in the hopes of reaching a fresh jail exchange agreement to ease the suffering of hundreds of war prisoners and abducted civilians.

It comes as the Yemeni government accused the Houthis of assaulting the Sanaa home of Ahmed Ahmed Ghaleb, the governor of Yemen’s central bank in Aden.

According to the official news agency on Saturday, armed Houthi fighters stormed Ghaleb’s residence in Sanaa and removed those inside, apparently in response to the governor’s recent actions against Sanaa’s banking institutions.

Ghaleb recently sanctioned numerous banks for refusing to move their offices from Houthi-held Sanaa to government-controlled Aden.

He also ordered the removal of banknotes printed before 2016 that are extensively used in Houthi territory.

Since seizing power in Yemen more than a decade ago, the Houthis have seized the homes and other assets of hundreds of Yemeni politicians, journalists, human rights advocates, military and security personnel, attorneys and others who have challenged their harsh policies.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s Ministry of Endowments and Guidance said on Saturday that all stranded Yemeni pilgrims have returned home after the Houthis permitted a Yemenia Airways jet to fly them from Jeddah to Sanaa.

Hundreds of Yemeni pilgrims were trapped in Saudi Arabia when the Houthis seized three Yemenia aircraft at Sanaa airport and prevented them from flying to Saudi Arabia to bring back pilgrims.

A Yemeni government official told Arab News that the standoff with the Houthis over the capture of Yemenia planes has not ended and that the Houthis have once again seized the Yemenia plane that carried pilgrims and have refused all mediations to release the aircraft.

The Houthis claim they will administer Yemenia Airways, repair the aircraft and reorganize flights from Yemeni airports, including those held by the government.

The Yemeni government accused the Houthis of “hijacking” the flights and compounding the agony of Yemenis who are left unable to travel as a result of the aircraft seizures.

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