UN Envoy to Yemen, Houthi Delegation Depart for Sweden

Wounded Houthi fighters wait at Sanaa airport during his evacuation from Yemen

Meanwhile, the Saudi-backed government's delegation is expected to arrive in Sweden on Wednesday, according to a source affiliated with the government.

"The UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, communicated to us that coalition forces and the Yemeni [self-proclaimed] government have also signed the prisoner exchange agreement that was signed in November by the Houthis", he said.

The first Yemen talks since 2016 are widely seen as the best chance yet for peace, as the worldwide community throws its weight behind efforts to resolve a conflict.

The Sweden meeting follows two major confidence-boosting gestures between the warring parties - a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of 50 wounded insurgents from the rebel-held capital for treatment in neutral Oman.

He said the dire figures underlined the importance of the planned peace talks in Sweden.

No date has yet been set for the talks, which are due to be held in Sweden, but hopes have been building that they could go ahead this week.

The announcement of a deal on Tuesday to swap hundreds of detainees was hailed by the International Committee of the Red Cross as "one step in the right direction toward the building of mutual trust".

"If the consultations proceed positively, we will see an immediate change for people in Yemen".

A security official inside Sanaa airport told AFP the rebels had begun to board the private, UN-supervised flight on Monday evening.

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Sources in Sanaa airport asserted that the Houthi militia refused, without giving any reasons, to transport the injured among their ranks to Sanaa airport who were supposed to be transferred to Oman via the United Nations carrier which arrived on Monday to Sanaa airport. "We have no illusions that this process will be easy, but we welcome this necessary and vital first step", Heather Nauert, US State Department spokeswoman, said.

But fresh fighting flared on Monday and the coalition spokesman said military operations were "ongoing".

The UN food agency said it was planning to scale up food distribution rapidly to help another four million people in Yemen over the next two months, more than a 50 per cent rise on the number now reached.

The oil-rich Gulf emirate has been a mediator in the devastating conflict.

Western powers, which provide arms and intelligence to the coalition, may have greater leverage to demand action on Yemen after outrage over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul increased scrutiny of the kingdom's activities in the region.

Yemen collapsed into crisis, creating mass food shortages and near economic bankruptcy when Houthi rebels captured Sana'a in 2015. "A stable state, important for the region, can not coexist with unlawful militias".

Meanwhile, the Yemeni government demanded that the Houthis withdraw from the port city of Hodeidah.

The demands are unacceptable to the rebels and subsequent worldwide peace efforts, including three months of negotiations in Kuwait that broke down in 2016, have focused on a power-sharing government and a federal political system.

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