CAIRO (AP) — Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen released dozens of Egyptian fishermen on Tuesday after detaining them for weeks on charges of trespassing into territorial waters.
The 32 fishermen were ferried on a chartered flight home to Cairo from Yemen’s rebel-held capital, according to the Houthi-run news agency.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi hailed their return on Twitter, saying that “intensive efforts” by the government “saved (the fishermen’s) lives and yielded their safe transfer to Egyptian lands.”
Government ministers waving Egyptian flags greeted the freed fishermen as they descended onto the tarmac.
Immigration Minister Nabila Makram told Egypt’s pro-government CBC Extra channel that the government had been trying to negotiate the release with Yemeni and Saudi authorities since mid-December.
The Houthi coast guard plucked the fishermen from the Red Sea, accusing them of violating the sea border off the southern coast.
Every year, the Houthis detain dozens of fishing boats and other vessels that pass through their waters. The rebels target oil tankers and military ships belonging to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, which have been fighting in Yemen’s civil war since 2015.
As a regional foe of Iran, Egypt supports the Saudi-led coalition’s efforts to oust the Houthis and restore the internationally-recognized government in Yemen. But Egypt limits its military involvement to maritime patrols and reconnaissance missions.
Yemen lies along the southern end of the Red Sea, one of the world’s most commercially critical waterways, congested with oil tankers crossing from the Middle East to Europe.
The waters have become increasingly perilous since 2014. That’s when Houthis seized the Yemeni capital and much of the country’s north, setting off a civil war that has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.