Despite U.N. efforts to maintain calm in Yemen, 60 Saudi Arabia-led airstrikes once again ripped through the country in recent days, 30 of them hitting towns on Thursday alone.
It’s unclear how many people have been killed, but a spokesman for the Yemeni Armed Forces and Popular Committees — one of the irregular armed groups embroiled in the fighting — said that three women were killed in the strikes and several houses were destroyed in Thursday’s strikes.
The deadly strikes took place as the different warring sides in Yemen are gathered in Sweden for peace talks brokered by the United Nations. Representatives from both the Houthi rebels and the exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition, are at the talks.
A prisoner-swap agreement between the two sides was agreed upon on Thursday, to be overseen by the Red Cross, leading to hope that there would be more progress. But the talks, taking place in Rimbo, just north of Stockholm, aren’t going so well.
According to the Associated Press, U.N. officials have “have sought to downplay expectations from the talks.” The U.N. Secretary General’s spokesman called for at least a de-escalation of Yemen’s port city of Hodeida and asked the parties to “explore other measures to mitigate the life-threatening economic and humanitarian situation.”
Al Jazeera also reported that things aren’t going well. The outlet reports that Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani “has sparked anger in his country” in demanding that the Houthis turn over their power and territory to Hadi’s government.
Al-Yamani’s comments came as government and Houthi representatives are ensconced in closed talks with the U.N. for another week.
The rebels want the country’s presidency replaced with a “presidency council” and say that Hadi has lost legitimacy. But al-Yamani dismissed the idea of the council as “nonsense.”
Hadi, and much of his government, have been in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, as the Gulf Arab neighbor has taken to launching fierce, brutally deadly airstrikes that have killed thousands of civilians in Yemen.
The United Nations has clocked civilian casualties at a staggering 123 per week, and targets have included clinics, markets, and even a school bus packed with children, drawing the ire of human rights groups.
The additional attention brought by the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October has prompted U.S. lawmakers to reconsider support for Saudi Arabia’s operations in Yemen. With the year coming to an end, its doubtful that Congress will make any progress on the resolution before 2019, and there is already pushback from right-wing think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation, on ceasing U.S. support for Saudi Arabia.
While the Houthis have responded to strikes with missiles and have also been accused of rights violations, including the torture of prisoners, they do not have access to the sorts of weapons the United States has sold Saudi Arabia and its partners for years.
In the face of the civilian deaths as well as Khashoggi’s murder, President Donald Trump has maintained his support for Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
His administration certified in September — shortly after the deadly strike on the school bus — that Saudi Arabia was doing everything it can to prevent casualties.
But the fact is, those casualties continue, and as it turns out, even the U.N.’s low expectations were not met: Some of Thursday’s airstrikes hit homes in port city of Hodeidah, according to a Houthi-affiliated news site Al-Masirah.
This is the port where the majority of the food and aid for the population in the area comes in, so compromising it will have huge humanitarian impact in a country already already battered by food and medical shortages in more remote areas, combined by cholera outbreaks that have killed thousands.
Using U.N. statistics, Save the Children calculated that around 85,000 children have starved to death in Yemen during this conflict — almost double the number of all the students currently enrolled in Washington, DC’s public school system.
Doctors Without Borders on Thursday released a statement that paints a grim picture.
“We see a rise in epidemics and in vaccine-preventable diseases,” it read. “Right now, there is an epidemic of dengue fever, which is a seasonal disease in Yemen, but this year it is much worse than in the past because the city’s water and sanitation infrastructure has been decimated.”