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The largest prisoner exchange in Yemen since 2014

A landmark prisoner exchange between the government and Huthi rebels began Thursday, with hundreds of combatants heading home on flights criss-crossing Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

The swap is a rare sign of progress in the process to end the conflict which broke out six years ago in Yemen, where the Huthis still control much of the north despite the intervention of Saudi Arabia and its allies since 2015.

In the rebel-held capital of Sanaa, the returning fighters arrived to a red-carpet welcome, greeted by a military band and and senior officials standing together with family members.

“Death to America, Death to Israel,” they shouted, the slogan of the Huthis who have battled the government and the might of the Saudi-led coalition.

The warring sides agreed to exchange 1,081 prisoners under a deal struck in Switzerland last month, the largest number since the start of the war in 2014.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is handling the logistics of the complex two-day operation, said that five planes had so far delivered more than 300 combatants to cities in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

They travelled between Sanaa, the government-held city of Seiyun, and the Saudi city of Abha, it said.