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Yemenis have started direct flights to Saudi Arabia for the first time since 2016

The flight was for Yemeni Muslims on their way to Hajj and signaled an easing of tensions between the two countries.

The first direct flight between Yemen and Saudi Arabia in nearly seven years carried more than 270 Yemenis from rebel-held Sanaa to Jeddah, signaling an easing of tensions between the two countries.

The Yemeni flight – also known as Yemen Airways – took place on Saturday evening and was carrying Yemeni Muslims on the annual Islamic pilgrimage to the Saudi city of Mecca.

According to Yemeni airport chief Khalid al-Shayef, the flight is one of five that take pilgrims to Islam’s holiest site from Sana’a International Airport.

The Saudi-led military coalition closed Sanaa’s airport in August 2016 as part of an air and sea blockade of Yemen’s Houthi-held areas. It came a year after the coalition intervened in Yemen after Iran-backed Houthi rebels ousted the government from the capital Sanaa.

A Saudi delegation, which is seeking a permanent ceasefire agreement, concluded peace talks with the Houthi group in Sanaa in mid-April.

The latest meeting between the countries’ foreign ministers in Tehran on Saturday marked the start of peace talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have seen the restoration of diplomatic ties in recent months.

Riyadh facilitated a prisoner exchange between Yemeni rebels and government forces in April, which freed more than 800 prisoners and raised hopes of an end to the protracted war.

The conflict in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of people, is considered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises and is also seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Yemenis traveling to Mecca for Haj will join millions of Muslims around the world.

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