Saudi wants 'serious steps' from Yemen rebels: official

Saudi wants 'serious steps' from Yemen rebels: official
Saudi Arabia says it is waiting for "serious steps" from Yemen's Houthis on a prisoner swap before responding to their surprise ceasefire offer.
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Yemen's Houthi rebels have offered Saudi Arabia a ceasefire and prisoner exchange [Getty]

Saudi Arabia is waiting for "serious steps" from Yemen's Houthi rebels on a potential prisoner swap before responding to their offer of a ceasefire, an official told AFP on Tuesday.

The Saudi-led coalition, which backs the government in Yemen's conflict, is yet to comment on the surprise announcement from the Iran-backed Houthis, who called a three-day truce and dangled the possibility of a permanent end to hostilities.

The rebels' offer on Saturday, the seventh anniversary of the start of the war, came a day after a wave of cross-border drone and missile attacks on Saudi targets, including an oil plant within sight of Jeddah's Formula One Grand Prix.

Saudi Arabia "is waiting for serious steps from the Huthis before dealing with the truce initiative put forward by the Houthis", a Saudi diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity, referring to a possible prisoner swap in the coming days.

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On Sunday, the Houthis said an agreement had been reached to free 1,400 of their fighters in exchange for 823 pro-government personnel, including 16 Saudis and three Sudanese.

The brother of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi is among the prisoners set for release, Abdul Qader Al-Murtada, head of the Houthis' prisoners affairs committee, wrote on Twitter.

The exchange is "under consideration" tweeted Hadi Haig, his counterpart in Yemen's government.

The latest statements have lifted hopes of diplomatic progress after the war, which has killed hundreds of thousands directly or indirectly and left millions on the brink of famine, entered its eighth year.

"We are pleased to hear that some progress has been made in negotiations between the parties on another major release," said Basheer Omar, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen, which handles the logistics of swaps.

"We hope to soon see a release process for the detainees and their families. But we are also aware that negotiations of this kind during an active conflict are complex and require time," he told AFP.

The last prisoner swap was in October 2020, when 1,056 people were released on each side, according to the ICRC.

On Saturday, the Houthis offered peace talks on a permanent ceasefire on condition that the Saudis end their blockade and air strikes and remove coalition forces from Yemen.

However, the rebels have shunned a meeting in Riyadh from Wednesday that is hosted by the Gulf Cooperation Council and involves the Yemeni government and US and UN envoys to Yemen. The Houthis say they won't travel to enemy territory for talks.