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Yemen's warring parties start largest prisoner swap

Planes carrying prisoners exchanged by the warring parties in Yemen take off from two airports on Thursday in an operation to return about 1,000 men home across the front lines, Reuters witnesses said.

Adds planes carrying detainees take off

SANAA/GENEVA, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Planes carrying prisoners exchanged by the warring parties in Yemen take off from two airports on Thursday in an operation to return about 1,000 men home across the front lines, Reuters witnesses said.

The Saudi-led military coalition and Yemen's Houthi movement agreed last month in Switzerland to exchange 1,081 prisoners, including 15 Saudis, in the largest swap since peace talks in December 2018 that have since stalled.

One of two airplanes carrying members of the Saudi-led coalition freed from detention took off from the airport in the Houthi-held capital, Sanaa, a Reuters witness said.

An airplane carrying Houthis released from captivity by the coalition departed Sayoun airport in the government-held Hadramout region, another Reuters witness said.

"The plane has just taken off in Sanaa. This operation that means so much to so many families is underway," Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC regional director for the Middle East, told Reuters.

Under the deal, the Iran-aligned Houthi group would release around 400 people, including 15 Saudi soldiers and four Sudanese, while the coalition would free 681 Houthi fighters in the a trust-building measure aimed at reviving peace talks.

Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Houthis ousted the internationally recognised government from power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting the Western-backed coalition to intervene in March 2015.

The conflict, seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been in military stalemate for years with the Houthis holding Sanaa and most big urban centres.

The war has killed more than 100,000 people and spawned what the United Nations describes as the world's largest humanitarian crisis.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Aziz El Yaakoubi and Yemen team; Editing by William Maclean and Jon Boyle)

((aziz.elyaakoubi@thomsonreuters.com; +971552994086; Reuters Messaging: aziz.elyaakoubi.reuters.com@reuters.net))

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