WASHINGTON, D.C. --Two American citizens detained by Houthi rebels in Yemen have been released in Oman as part of an agreement negotiated by the State Department. Under the deal some of the injured victims from a Saudi airstrike in Yemen last week that killed 150 people were treated in Oman in exchange for the release of the two Americans.
"We welcome reports that two U.S. citizens who had been detained in Yemen were released and have arrived safely in Oman," said Mark Toner, deputy spokesman for the State Department. "Consular officers from the U.S. Embassy in Muscat stand ready to provide all possible consular assistance.
"We are deeply grateful to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said and the Government of Oman for their assistance in facilitating and supporting the release of our citizens," Toner said. "We recognize the humanitarian gesture by the Houthis in releasing these U.S. citizens. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of any other U.S. citizens who may still be held."
In Lausanne, Switzerland, Secretary of State John Kerry also acknowledged the release of the Americans, which he said was part of a diplomatic agreement worked out in recent days.
Kerry said that under the agreement, Yemenis injured in last week's airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition were airlifted to Oman for medical treatment, The Associated Press reported.
Kerry declined to identify the two Americans released by the Houthi militants.
The release of the Americans comes just days after the United States launched Tomahawk cruise missiles that destroyed three radar systems that had been used by Houthi militants to target three failed missile attacks directed at the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Mason in the Red Sea.
On Friday, senior administration officials said there was "no doubt" that Houthi rebels had been responsible for the failed missile attacks. They also stressed that the American missile strikes were only in direct retaliation for the attacks on the ship and did not indicate that the U.S. was getting involved in the broader military conflict in Yemen.
For much of the past two years, the Houthis have been fighting with military forces from a Saudi-led coalition that intervened in Yemen to restore the government overthrown by the Houthis in January 2015.
The United States has scaled back initial intelligence and air refueling support to that coalition because of airstrikes that have resulted in many civilian casualties.
The Obama administration announced last week that it was reviewing that assistance in the wake of the deadly airstrike targeting a funeral hall that killed 150 and injured hundreds more.
On Friday, American officials had characterized that airstrike as "egregious" and that it was carried out with "absolutely no justification."
On Saturday the Saudi coalition acknowledged that the airstrike on the funeral hall was carried out without following proper procedures and "wrongly targeted the location, resulting in several deaths and injuries.
It said that appropriate action would be taken on those responsible for the airstrike and that compensation would be provided to the victims families.