An American among several believed held by Houthis in Yemen was freed and receiving treatment yesterday in neighboring Oman, which has been hosting talks between Washington and the Iran-backed Shiite rebels.
A diplomat in Muscat said the talks between the US and the Houthis were aimed at promoting a proposed peace conference in Geneva, Switzerland, which the UN has so far failed to persuade the warring parties to attend, but the US Department of State said only that Anne Patterson, the top US official for Near East affairs, was in Oman for discussions “about many issues.”
News of the release of American journalist Casey Coombs came as Omani state media reported that a Singaporean had also arrived in the sultanate on his way home.
“I can... confirm that US citizen Casey Coombs has departed Yemen and has arrived safely in Muscat,” US Department of State spokeswoman Marie Harf said. “He is in stable condition. The US ambassador and a consular official met him at the airport upon his arrival and are providing all possible consular assistance.”
Pictures released by Oman’s ONA news agency showed Coombs being stretchered into an ambulance with a brace around his head.
“We are grateful to the government of Oman and personally to Sultan Qaboos for assisting with the safe passage of a US citizen to Oman,” Harf said.
Coombs, who had been working as a freelance journalist in Yemen since 2012, writing for publications including Time and The Intercept, had been held by the Houthis for two weeks, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
The rebels have controlled the capital since September last year and have seized much of the rest of the country, despite a Saudi-led bombing campaign launched in March in support of exiled Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The journalist’s detention by the Houthis had been kept under wraps at the request of his family.
In an article he wrote for The Intercept last month, he said he had been trying to leave the country, but was struggling to find a safe route out amid the fighting. The US said at the weekend it was working to secure the release of “several US citizens” held in Yemen.
Washington has provided intelligence and logistical support for the Saudi-led air campaign, but has called for a political solution to the conflict which has killed at least 2,000 people since March.
Diplomatic sources in Oman said on Monday that talks were taking place between a US delegation and the Houthis.
“During these secret and informal talks, the Americans are seeking to bring closer positions of the Houthis on one hand, and the Saudis and President Hadi on the other, with the hope of convincing these to lower the ceiling of their demands,” one diplomat said.
The Geneva conference had been due to take place on May 28, but was postponed after Hadi insisted that the rebels must first withdraw from at least part of the territory they have seized, in line with a UN Security Council resolution.
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