LAUSANNE, Switzerland – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Yemen’s Houthi rebels released two U.S. citizens on Saturday, without identifying the Americans.
Kerry said they were freed as part of a complicated diplomatic arrangement that included airlifts for Yemenis wounded by an airstrike on a funeral hall this past week carried out by a Saudi-led coalition. Those individuals were taken to Oman for treatment.
Kerry said the U.S. has been working on such efforts for the past few days, alongside a push for a cease-fire in Yemen that would allow the country’s internationally recognized government and the Iran-backed Houthis to return to negotiations.
The state-run Oman News Agency said two Americans “held” in Yemen were released and flown to the sultanate following negotiations between Omani officials and “Yemeni authorities” in the capital, Sanaa, which is controlled by the Houthis and their allies.
Yemen’s war pits the government against the Shiite Houthi rebels and allied army units loyal to a former president. A Saudi-led coalition has been intervening on the side of the government since March 2015.
After peace talks broke down two months ago, the Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition stepped up airstrikes and forced the closure of Sanaa’s international airport. Negotiators representing the Houthis and their allies ended up stranded in Oman, but were allowed to return to Yemen under the latest deal.
The bombing of the packed funeral hall last weekend, which killed 140 people and wounded 600, appears to have galvanized diplomatic efforts. An internal probe by the coalition said Saturday that the strike was carried out based on “wrong information” and had not been approved by the coalition’s top command.
More than 100 people who were wounded in the funeral hall bombing have been allowed medical evacuation to seek treatment outside of Yemen, a Yemeni government official said.
Speaking to reporters in Switzerland, where he was attending talks on Syria, Kerry said a plane flew the Houthi delegation back to Yemen from the Omani capital, Muscat, and returned with people wounded in the funeral hall strike.
“This is something we’ve been working on for the last days,” he said.
Oman, a U.S. ally which maintains warm relations with nearby Iran, has served as a mediator for past diplomatic initiatives.
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