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Yemen's Houthis free more than 100 prisoners

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Yemen's Houthi group freed more than 100 detainees in Sanaa on Sunday, calling the move a "unilateral humanitarian initiative" to pardon prisoners and return them to their families.

Prisoners, who according to the Houthis are members of government forces, walk during their release by the Houthis in Sanaa, May 26, 2024. Reuters/Khaled Abdullah

Yemen's Houthi group freed more than 100 detainees in Sanaa on Sunday, calling the move a "unilateral humanitarian initiative" to pardon prisoners and return them to their families.

"Most of them are humanitarian cases, including the sick, the wounded, and the elderly," said Abdul Qader Al-Murtada, head of the Houthi-run prisoner affairs committee, who announced the release and said the detainees had been government soldiers captured at the battlefront.

But Yemen's internationally recognised government said the detainees were not soldiers, but civilians the Houthis had kidnapped from homes, mosques and workplaces.

"Releasing these victims under any name does not absolve (the Houthis) of this crime," Majed Fadail, deputy minister for human rights in Yemen's internationally recognised government wrote in a post on social media platform X.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed on Sunday the unilateral release of 113 "conflict-related" detainees and said in a statement that it assisted the detainees to ensure their release was humane and dignified.

"I feel completely at ease, as if I was born again today. Because we were desperate and thought we would never get out," said Murshed Al Jamaai, a detainee released on Sunday.

Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Houthis ousted the government from the capital Sanaa in late 2014. The Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in 2015, aiming to restore the government.

The outlines of a proposed Yemen UN roadmap for peace were agreed last December, but progress towards peace stalled as the Houthis ramped up attacks on ships in and around the Red Sea, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war.

The campaign has disrupted global commerce, stoked fears of inflation and deepened concern that fallout from the Israel-Hamas war could destabilise parts of the Middle East.

Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa

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