Civilian Casualties in Yemen Average 123 per Week, UN Says

Refugee agency urges parties to Stockholm peace talks to do more to protect civilians, as warring sides agree to broad prisoner swap

File photo: A boy stands on the rubble of a house destroyed during the conflict in the northwestern city of Saada, Yemen, November 22, 2018.
Naif Rahma/Reuters

The United Nations' refugee agency said Friday that there have been nearly 1,500 civilian casualties in Yemen from August through October, the latest grim tally to emerge from a four-year civil war as opposing parties hold talks in Sweden.

UNHCR urged the two sides to do more to protect civilians, saying data from Yemen shows an average of 123 civilian killed and wounded every week during the three-month period, in a war that has killed at least 16,000 civilians.

Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the internationally recognized government, supported by a Saudi-led coalition, are meeting in Sweden for UN-sponsored talks aimed at halting the bloodshed.

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On Friday, at the venue in a castle in the town of Rimbo, north of Stockholm, UN envoy Martin Griffiths and various delegates from Yemen were seen walking on the grounds.

UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths shakes hands with Yemeni delegates during Yemeni peace talks in Rimbo, Sweden, December 6, 2018.
Stina Stjernkvist/TT News Agency/AFP

The talks opened Thursday on an upbeat note, with the warring sides agreeing to a broad prisoner swap, boosting hopes that the talks would not deteriorate into further violence as in the past.

Two government officials told Reuters on Friday that Saudi-backed government has proposed reopening the Houthi-held airport in the capital Sanaa on condition planes are first inspected in the airports of Aden or Sayun, which are under its control.

However, Houthi delegation head Mohammed Abdusalam told Al Jazeera that his movement rejected the proposal. He added that the port of Hodeidah must be kept apart from the military conflict, and that a government should be formed first before all parties are disarmed. 

Yemen's conflict, which has pushed the country to the brink of famine, pits the internationally recognized government against Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who took the capital of Sanaa in 2014. The Saudis intervened the following year.

UN officials have sought to downplay expectations from the talks, saying they don't foresee rapid progress toward a political settlement but hope for at least minor steps that would help to address Yemen's worsening humanitarian crisis and prepare a framework for further negotiations.

UNHCR says of the 1,478 civilian casualties, 33 percent were women and children. That's a total of 217 women and children killed and 268 wounded.

Reuters contributed to this report.