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Government forces and Houthis in Yemen prisoner swap

Houthis release 76 men in exchange for 118 freed by pro-government fighters in Taiz following mediation by local tribes.

One of the largest prisoner swaps has taken place in Yemen's Taiz between pro-government fighters and Houthi rebels following mediation by local tribes.

Abdullatif al-Muradi, a tribal chief, said on Saturday that government forces, who control Taiz, released 118 prisoners, while Houthis freed 76.

Pro-government officials in Taiz confirmed the exchange.

The deal took place separately from the negotiations taking place in Kuwait since nine weeks ago to end the conflict which began in March last year.

Just hours before the prisoner exchange, the rebels rained rocket fire on several parts of Taiz, residents said.

There was also heavy fighting for the town of Kirsh, on the main highway to Taiz from the southern port city of Aden, where the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is based.

An Arab-led coalition assembled by Saudi Arabia began a military campaign in Yemen in March last year with the aim of preventing the Iran-allied Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, the deposed president, from taking power.

Despite the military intervention, the Houthi rebels and their allies still control the capital, Sanaa, and most of the central and northern highlands, as well as the Red Sea coast.
Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, said on Thursday the kingdom now wants to prioritise fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other armed groups in Yemen over its battle with the Houthis.

Armed groups gained ground in Aden since forces loyal to Hadi, backed by the Arab coalition, drove Houthi rebels and their allies out of the city in July last year.

The conflict between those two sides created a power vacuum that was exploited by al-Qaeda and allied groups.

Both al-Qaeda and ISIL, also known as ISIS, have carried out past bombings against the Houthis, whose faith they regard as here.

Over the past two months, however, government and coalition forces have hit back, driving the fighters out of Aden, as well as Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt province.

More than 6,400 people have been killed in Yemen since the intervention began, the majority of them civilians, according to UN figures. The fighting has also driven 2.8 million people from their homes.

More than 14 million Yemenis, more than half of the country's population, are in need of emergency food and life-saving assistance, according to a report this month by the UN and the Yemeni government.

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