The prisoner release is part of a ceasefire between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels [EPA]

Yemen has released hundreds of Houthi rebel prisoners as part of a ceasefire in its long-running conflict with the northern Shia group.

Rebels and government officials said more than 400 Houthi detainees were released on Thursday as part of a truce mediated by the Gulf nation of Qatar.

Of those, 270 were set free in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and the rest in the northern city of Saada, the centre of the Houthi rebel movement, a security official said.

In return, officials said the rebels were expected to "surrender weaponry seized during the armed conflict" with the government.

In a statement on Thursday, the rebels said they had returned 10 military vehicles to authorities and had so far received 428 freed prisoners.

Fragile peace deal

The prisoner release comes just days after a Qatari delegation arrived in Yemen in an effort to consolidate a fragile peace deal reached in February 2010 between the Sanaa government and the rebels.

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Qatar had previously brokered a short-lived ceasefire between the two sides in 2007 and a peace deal in 2008, but clashes soon broke out again.

The Houthis are members of the Zaidi sect of Shia Islam and follow the teachings of Bader Al-Deen Al-Houthi and his son, Hussein, the first leader of uprising who was killed in 2004.

The group has fought six wars with the government since 2004. They blame the central government for economic and religious discrimination. 

More than 250,000 people have been displaced by the war between the government and the Houthis.

Yemen has faced international pressure to quell its domestic conflicts, including an increasingly violent secessionist movement in the south, and to combat a resurgent al-Qaeda affiliate in the country.

Source: Agencies