(Sanaa) More than 300 prisoners of war in Yemen were released on Friday in the first day of a major exchange between enemy camps, announced the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in the midst of negotiations on a truce in the country .

Yemen has been the scene of a conflict since 2014 between the government, supported by Saudi Arabia, and the Houthi rebels, supported by Iran, who have seized large swathes of territory in the north and west of this country. country, including the capital Sanaa.

At the end of March, the government and the rebels had reached an agreement in Bern, Switzerland, to exchange nearly 900 prisoners including Saudis and Sudanese, against the backdrop of an unexpected warming of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Sixty-nine people flew from Sana’a to Aden, the government’s interim capital, in the south of the country, and 249 others flew the reverse route on the first day of an operation due to end on Sunday and take place in several towns, the ICRC said in a statement.

A total of 16 Saudi prisoners, along with three Sudanese soldiers, are expected in Riyadh on Saturday.

In Sanaa, dozens of prisoners descended from a plane, shaking their fists in the air in victory.

Yahia Abou Korra said she had been waiting for her son’s return “for five years”. And as we approach the end of Ramadan celebrations next week, he is looking forward to this “double celebration”.

In Aden, cheers rang out as former defense minister Mahmoud al-Subaihi and the former president’s brother, General Nasser Mansour Hadi, stepped out of the first plane. The latter then went to Riyadh, where his brother lives.

The father of one detainee, Nasser Al-Dhalei spoke of “indescribable feelings”.

The last operation of this magnitude dates back to October 2020, when more than 1,000 prisoners were released.

The UN envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, on Friday welcomed the start of the exchange while recalling that “thousands of other families are still waiting to be reunited”.

The war in Yemen has caused one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, in a context of epidemics, lack of drinking water and acute hunger. More than three quarters of the population depend on international aid, which nevertheless continues to decline.

“With this gesture of goodwill, hundreds of families torn apart by conflict will be reunited for Ramadan, bringing a beacon of hope amid great suffering,” said Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC director in the Middle East.

Quoted in the statement, he expressed hope that “these releases provide momentum for a broader political solution.”

On Thursday, a Saudi delegation left Sanaa with a “preliminary agreement” of a truce and the promise of “new talks”, according to a rebel official who wished to remain anonymous.

Discussions in Sanaa were “serious and positive” with “progress on some issues”, Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdelsalam tweeted.

According to Yemeni government sources, who requested anonymity, the talks are about a six-month truce paving the way for a three-month period of talks over a two-year transition, during which the final solution will be negotiated between all parties.

The truce must meet the two main demands of the rebels: the payment by the government of the salaries of civil servants in the rebel areas and the reopening of Sanaa airport, strictly controlled by the Saudi aviation.

Last year, the parties observed a six-month truce. Although it was not officially renewed after its expiration in early October, the situation remained relatively calm on the ground.

“Only the unconditional release of all civilian and non-civilian prisoners by the parties will show a serious commitment to peace,” said Nadwa Dawsari of the Middle East Institute think tank.

The Bern agreement was concluded after a warming of relations between the two heavyweights of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Iran, which oppose on various issues, and sometimes even by interposed camps as in Yemen.