(Sanaa) The government and rebels in Yemen released a new batch of detainees on Sunday, the third and final day of a major prisoner swap, amid talks aimed at ending more than eight years of war.

Two planes carrying prisoners from both sides made the connection between the capital Sanaa, in the hands of the insurgents since 2014, and Marib, the last bastion of power in the north of the country.

In Marib, the ex-detainees boarded International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) aircraft, some in wheelchairs, loaded with bags of provisions for breaking the Ramadan fast, while in Sanaa, combatants Houthis were doing a traditional dance to welcome their comrades.

“Forty-eight ex-detainees were on board the Marib-Sanaa flight, and 42 on board the Sanaa-Marib flight,” Jessica Moussan, ICRC media relations officer, told AFP.

Three other flights are planned for the day, carrying detainees including four journalists who have been sentenced to death by the Houthis, according to Majid Fadael, official spokesperson for the government delegation responsible for negotiating the exchange.

In all, nearly 900 prisoners were to be released over three days under a March deal in Switzerland between the government, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, and the Iran-friendly Houthis. .

The operation began on Friday with the release of 318 prisoners, including the former defense minister and the brother of Yemen’s former president.

On Saturday, nearly 350 rebels returned to Sanaa from Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni city of Mokha, while 16 Saudis and 3 Sudanese coalition members arrived in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

“The past three days have brought joy to many families torn apart by conflict. We hope that more releases will take place in the near future,” said Jessica Moussan of the ICRC.

The exchange, the largest since the release of more than 1,000 prisoners in October 2020, comes amid growing hopes for peace in the conflict that has plunged the country into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

The war in Yemen has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, according to the UN, in a context of epidemics, lack of drinking water and acute hunger.

A UN-brokered six-month truce was not renewed when it expired in October, but the situation remained calm on the ground, offering respite to the population.

Last week, a Saudi delegation, accompanied by Omani mediators, traveled to Sanaa for talks aimed at reviving the truce and laying the foundations for a more durable ceasefire.

The talks were “positive” and further talks are planned after Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim month of fasting in a few days, the chairman of the Houthi rebel political council, Mahdi al-Mashat, said on Saturday. .

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said earlier that talks “will continue as soon as possible in order to reach a comprehensive political solution.”

Hopes for peace in this country, the poorest on the Arabian Peninsula, have been revived by the unexpected rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which announced in March its intention to restore diplomatic relations after seven years. a break.