As sides talk, fresh violence in Yemen leaves 55 dead

Published 2:46 PM EST, Sat December 19, 2015

Story highlights

Over 100 people -- some with the Houthis, others loyal to President Hadi -- die over 2 days, officials say

The U.N. envoy participating in peace talks in Switzerland blasts the violations of the latest ceasefire

Thousands have been killed and 82% of Yemen's population needs humanitarian aid, the U.N. says

(CNN) —  

As negotiators met thousands of miles away, Yemen has erupted once more in violence with more than 100 deaths between Friday and Saturday, three senior security officials in northern Yemen told CNN.

Of the 55 killed on Saturday, 30 were Houthis, the members of Yemen’s Shiite minority turned rebels that have been fighting for control for months. The rest are forces loyal to Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who had been forced out of Yemen before returning to leading the battle against Houthis with military support from Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s predominantly Sunni neighbor.

The violence over the 48-hour stretch centered around the Harath district of Hajjah, a strategic border city near Saudi Arabia.

The Houthi-run defense ministry claims the Saudis conducted at least 1,300 airstrikes in the area since Thursday.

The violence picked up just as representatives from the warring parties sat down in Switzerland to discuss a lasting ceasefire or an end to the conflict.

A seven-day ceasefire to coincide with the peace negotiations theoretically began at noon local time (4 a.m. ET) Tuesday. Aid workers did manage after that to treat hundreds of people and transport thousands of tons of food to some hard-hit cities.

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the U.N. special envoy for Yemen, acknowledged the “alarming developments on the ground,” specifically the “numerous reports of violations of the cessation of hostilities,” according to a U.N. press release Friday.

This is hardly a shock, given all the other ceasefires that have collapsed or been partially observed. Still, this lack of progress toward peace has come at a steep cost to the Yemeni people.

Dying boy’s words amid Yemen’s forgotten war

The United Nations estimated last month that some 5,700 people had been killed, tens of thousands wounded and that over 21 million Yemenis, or 82% of the Arab nation’s population, need humanitarian assistance of some kind.

“The collapse of basic services in Yemen continues to accelerate,” U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator Johannes Van der Klaauw said then.

The protracted conflict, and the security vacuum it has caused, has opened the door for rival terrorist groups al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS to expand their reach in Yemen.

For all these reasons, Ahmed has been pushing negotiations to resolve this crisis without more bloodshed and more heartache.

“(These talks are the Yemenis’) only glimmer of hope and must not be extinguished,” he told participants in the Switzerland talks this week.

“Are you going to abandon Yemen and its people and lead the country into further violence and slaughter? Or are you going to put Yemen first, awaken your humanitarian and patriotic consciences, activate the role of the institutions, and ensure the people of Yemen can live the dignified life they deserve?”

Journalist Hakim Almasmari reported from Sanaa, and CNN’s Greg Botelho reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.