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Yemen's Houthis offer to release Saudi prisoners in exchange for Hamas detainees

Leader of Shia movement offers to release Saudi pilot and four officers in exchange for alleged Hamas operatives detained in kingdom
Houthi supporters watch speech by leader Abdul-Malik al-Huuthi on big screen in Sanaa in 2018 (AFP/File photo)

The leader of Yemen's Houthi movement offered to release a Saudi pilot and four officers in exchange for alleged Hamas members detained in the kingdom.

Speaking on the fifth anniversary of the Saudi-led war in Yemen, Abdul Malik al-Houthi denounced the kingdom for detaining Palestinians and Jordanians linked to Hamas, and offered to release a pilot abducted in the downing of a Saudi warplane last month, along with four other soldiers and officers.

"Unfortunately, the regimes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have presented [themselves] as worse than Israel," he said on Thursday, adding his "complete readiness" to release the detainees.

Al-Houthi also said the rebels were "ready for peace and stopping the war if the aggressor [Saudi-led coalition] is serious in stopping the aggression and siege," the pro-rebel Al Masirah TV network reported.

The Houthi offer comes as Saudi Arabia continues to hold 68 Palestinians and Jordanians linked to Hamas on terrorism charges. 

A Palestinian source told MEE last week that some of the detainees are facing unusual charges.

According to the source, one person was jailed after he was caught in possession of bottles of Palestinian olive oil, a second because he sent sheep to people in Gaza for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, and a third over possession of a book on the history of Palestine by Kuwaiti writer Tareq al-Suwaidan.

Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar welcomed the proposal from the Houthi Ansarallah leadership, saying that the Palestinian group has tasked certain intermediaries with following the situation. 

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"The initiative of the leader of Ansarallah has pleased the hearts of all Palestinian resistance fighters," he told the Lebanon-based Al Mayadeen news network.

Later, Hamas issued a statement thanking the Houthis for the offer and saluting their "spirit of fraternity and compassion" with Palestinians.

"We also renew our calls for our brothers in Saudi Arabia to all Palestinian detainees from the kingdom's prisons," the statement said.

Earlier this month, Hamas denounced the trial of the Palestinian prisoners, describing the process as "unjust".

"The Palestinians arrested by the Saudi state security police have committed no crimes other than having the honour of defending Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque," the statement said.

The war in Yemen has killed more than 100,000 people and forced more than 18 million to rely on aid groups for their survival.

Since the conflict erupted in March 2015, the country's fragile health-care system has come under enormous strain.

Heavy bombardments and air strikes combined with continuous fighting have hampered access to health care and increased pressure on the few facilities that are still functioning.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organisation warned that the introduction of the coronavirus could "overrun hospitals and health facilities."

"We cannot overwhelm the already fragile health system," it said.