Houthi leader proposes prisoner exchange of Hamas members detained in Saudi Arabia

Houthi leader offers prisoner exchange

In a recent address marking the 5-year anniversary of the start of Yemen’s current civil war, the leader of the Houthi movement, Abdel Malik al Houthi, offered to exchange a captured Saudi pilot for Hamas members currently awaiting trial in Saudi Arabia. 

In his speech, Houthi said that he “expresses our strongest condemnation of the arrests of the Hamas members in Saudi Arabia and of their trials.” However, he added that “I am announcing our readiness to completely release one of the Saudi pilots, along with four Saudi officers and soldiers, in exchange for the release of those who were kidnapped from Hamas.” 

Houthi’s statement refers to the two Saudi pilots that were downed over Yemen’s al Jawf Governorate last month. The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen confirmed that the jet “crashed” last month, but reported that its pilots ejected from the aircraft. 

The fate of the pilots was left uncertain. However, if Houthi’s statement is accurate, at least one pilot is still alive. It is unclear where exactly the Houthis reportedly captured the other Saudi soldiers offered for the deal.

Additionally, Houthi refers to the series of arrests in Saudi Arabia targeting Palestinians and Jordanians residing in the kingdom in early 2019. Saudi officials have accused the men of belonging to the Palestinian militant group Hamas. 

Among those detained for allegedly fundraising for Hamas in the kingdom was Muhammad Selah al Khudry, a represenative of Hamas living in Jeddah. 

After Houthi’s statement, Hamas praised the offer saying “We highly value the spirit of brotherhood and sympathy for the Palestinian people… and we express our thanks for this interest and initiative.”

Hamas also renewed its call for Saudi Arabia to release the prisoners by claiming their members did not commit crimes against the kingdom. 

“The Palestinian detainees did not cause harm to the kingdom, and they respected the principles of hospitality in a brother country without compensation or condition. They are not guilty of a crime they did not commit,” the statement read. 

The offer of a prisoner exchange potentially unburdens Hamas of an escalating dispute with a “brother country” who at times provides assistance to the citizens of Gaza. 

Abdel Malik al Houthi’s proposal shows more support and coordination between members of the Iran-led ‘Axis of Resistance’. The ‘axis’ refers to a network of state and non-state actors led by Iran that operates against the United States and its allies in the Middle East and beyond.

Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah, many Iraqi Shia militias, and others consider themselves part of this ‘axis.’

The Houthi leader has previously coordinated messages with other Iran-backed groups. In several prior speeches, al Houthi has offered his men to Lebanese Hezbollah in the event of a future war with Israel.

In 2017, al Houthi stated “The Yemeni nation is ready to take part in any future confrontation against the Israeli enemy.” A year later, he again repeated this notion and said “If there is a new war with Israel, we will not hesitate to send fighters.”

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