Civilian casualties have surged in Yemen, according to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, even as peace talks are underway in Geneva with delayed arrival of representatives of the Houthi rebels who are sweeping the country.
Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the U.N. Special envoy for Yemen, is expected Wednesday to try to persuade the rebels and representatives of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, on one side, and the Saudi-backed government of exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, on the other, to accept a humanitarian pause.
The assessment of senior diplomats from the Group of 16, which includes the United States, Russia, China, France, and Great Britain, as well as regional powers Saudi Arabia and Turkey, that it would be a difficult task.
“Both sides are not flexible, and for the time being prefer to keep their tough positions,” said one diplomat after meeting with Cheikh Ahmed. He spoke on condition of non-attribution because of the sensitivity of the topic.
Cheikh Ahmed offered a similar assessment after meeting separately with the antagonists. “Let us be realistic, it will be a difficult time,” he said. “But the important issue is that we start addressing the crisis in all its dimensions.”
Rupert Colville, the spokesman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said a total of 50 civilians, including 18 children and 11 women, had been killed in the last five days.
Colville said at least 14 of those died as a result of violent clashes between local armed groups and military forces acting together against Houthi-affiliated Popular Committees in Lahij, Taiz, Dhale and Aden governorates.
He said at least 36 civilians died as a consequence of airstrikes carried out by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Sanaa, Hudaydah, Dhamar and Sadaa.
The U.N. estimates that since March 26, when the Saudi bombing campaign began, at least 1,412 civilians have been killed, and 3,423 injured in the fighting.
Robert Mardini, regional director for Near and Middle East at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said all parties in the conflict were disregarding the rules of war and international humanitarian law, He called on all parties to take precautions to spare civilians.
The fighting was escalating everywhere in the country, he said, and was taking a very heavy toll. Dozens of people were being killed every day, and hospitals were unable to cope with the massive influx of wounded people.