Yemen's Houthi militia released the deposed defense minister, an army general and a brother of exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi Wednesday. The Iranian-backed Shiite group also demanded an end to airstrikes and a return to negotiations a day after the Saudi-led coalition said it would stop bombing their forces. The airstrikes have reportedly continued into Wednesday, however.
"We demand, after a complete end to the aggression against Yemen and the lifting of the blockade, to resume political dialogue ... under the sponsorship of the United Nations," Mohammed Abdulsalam, a Houthi spokesman, said in a statement obtained by Agence France-Presse.
Abdulsalam made the remarks after three top officials of Hadi's deposed government were freed Wednesday. The trio has been held by the Houthis since late March, and their release was a result of mediation led by the head of Yemen’s military police in Ataq, a source close to mediators told AFP.
“Defense Minister Gen. Mahmud Al Subaihi, Gen. Nasser Mansour Hadi [the president’s brother], and Gen. Faisal Rajab have been freed,” the source said Wednesday, adding that the three Yemeni officials had left the Houthi-held capital of Sanaa and were heading to Ataq, capital of the southern province of Shabwa.
The trio’s release appears to be a peace gesture by the Houthis, observers told AFP. Saudi officials announced Tuesday an end to the bombing campaign, which has been backed by the United States, Egypt and other allies of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Asiri, the coalition’s spokesman, said the operation its calls “Decisive Storm” had achieved its military goals in Yemen and a new campaign called “Renewal Hope,” aimed at protecting civilians and fighting terrorism, had begun.
Asiri did not rule out future airstrikes against the Houthis and said the coalition would continue its naval blockade on Yemen. Airstrikes reportedly hit Houthi positions in Aden and Taiz Wednesday. Witnesses also reported fighting on the ground between rebels and pro-government forces in the south, Al Jazeera said.
Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh last month after the Houthis advanced on Sanaa and ousted his Western-backed government. Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf support Hadi and his fellow Sunni Muslims in southern Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition has been striking Yemen for nearly a month, since launching the air campaign on March 26, Reuters said.