Yemen’s Houthis flew two U.S. citizens and one Briton they held for several months to Oman Sunday, sources in the group said, in what appears as a goodwill gesture ahead of talks with the United Nations on efforts to end nearly six months of fighting. The three Westerners had been held by the Houthis since the early days of a Saudi-led military campaign in March on charges of entering the country without proper visas.
The source said the three accompanied a delegation of the Houthi group on an Omani flight to Muscat, where they were due to meet U.N. special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, for talks on efforts to push a peace deal in the country.
“We welcome the release of two U.S. citizens who had been detained in Yemen since earlier this year,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. “These individuals departed Yemen today and have since arrived in Oman.”
Oman, a member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council that also includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, has largely remained neutral in the conflict over Yemen, hosting talks to try to resolve the crisis peacefully.
Oman had previously used its good relations with Yemen’s Houthis and Iran to free Westerners in the past.
Oman Saturday said it had summoned the Saudi ambassador to Muscat to file an official complaint over what it said was the targeting of the residence of its ambassador in Sanaa during strikes on the capital Friday night.
The Saudi-led coalition spokesman has denied the accusation and suggested that the ambassador’s residence may have been hit by mortars, possibly fired by the Houthis, the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper said Sunday.
Asharq al-Awsat quoted Brig.-Gen. Ahmed al-Asiri as saying the coalition would welcome an investigation and suggested that the house may have been hit by a Houthi mortar bomb.
“One would be able from the beginning to distinguish between a mortar strike and a plane strike,” Asiri said.
Coalition air raids have intensified in recent weeks as a Gulf Arab ground force and fighters loyal to Hadi prepare a campaign to recapture Sanaa, seized by Houthi fighters in September 2014.
Witnesses and medics said Saudi-led airstrikes on a security complex in the western province of Ibb controlled by the Houthis killed 11 people Sunday, some of them prisoners.
The first strike caused no casualties but a second strike hit as guards were evacuating some 300 detainees, the sources said.
Fifty people were wounded.