Yemen frees Hizbollah and Revolutionary Guard prisoners
SANAA // Yemen has freed two suspected members of Hizbollah held for questioning about alleged ties to Shiite rebels who have seized control of much of the capital.
The takeover by Al Houthi rebels came hours before a power-sharing accord was signed with other political parties providing for the creation of a viable new government.
That effectively made the Houthis the main power brokers in Yemen.
The senior official said the authorities also expected to free at least three suspected members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps with links to the Houthis, as well as nine Yemenis jailed for involvement in the smuggling of arms aboard an Iranian ship intercepted off the coast in January 2013.
US and Yemeni officials said at the time the vessel was carrying a cache of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, being smuggled from Iran to insurgents in Yemen.
A security official said on Thursday the release of the Iranians and the Lebanese had been agreed with Tehran in a deal with Sanaa’s security service that had been brokered by Oman.
Oman maintains close relations with Iran, serving periodically as a point of contact for Tehran with the West and had facilitated exchange of prisoners in the past.
Several Arab newspapers, including the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi, have reported that the suspected Hizbollah and guard members were arrested this year on suspicion of spying and providing training and logistical support for Al Houthis.
“Two Hizbollah members were freed in Aden yesterday [Wednesday], and at least three Iranians will be freed today,” the official said.
He said the deal stipulated that in return for the releases a planned Houthi assault on Sanaa would be averted.
But the Houthis, who hail from the Zaidi branch of Shiite Islam, went ahead and took over Sanaa this week, after days of clashes with soldiers and armed men that they said were linked to the Islah party, which is said to have links to the Muslim Brotherhood.
It was unclear why the releases went ahead despite the Houthis’ advance, but it indicated that the Shi’ite rebels were now calling the shots and forcing president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi’s hand.
Mr Hadi has accused Iran of meddling in Yemeni affairs and had asked his Iranian counterpart to stop backing unidentified armed groups in the country. Iran has denied such accusations.
Mr Hadi warned Yemenis their country could be heading towards civil war with the Houthis’ ascendancy.
The Houthis have not made clear if the new deal will satisfy their demands or embolden them to seek further power.
Yemen is fragmented by tribal and sectarian divisions, and any renewed fighting could allow an array of other factions, including southern separatists, former autocratic president Ali Abdullah Saleh and even Al Qaeda to take advantage.
Updated: September 25, 2014 04:00 AM