Rimbo, Sweden – November was one of the bloodiest months in the war in Yemen with at least 2,959 documented deaths, a war monitor has said, as the Saudi-UAE coalition intensified its bombing campaign ahead of UN-sponsored peace talks in Sweden.
The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) reported on Tuesday that at least 28,115 fatalities were recorded in the first 11 months of this year, marking a 68 percent increase compared with 2017.
It said at least 60,110 people had been killed since January 2016, nine months after Saudi Arabia launched a massive aerial campaign against its impoverished southern neighbour, a figure six times higher than the frequently cited UN figure of 10,000.
“ACLED’s estimation of Yemen’s direct conflict deaths is far higher than official estimates – and is still underestimated,” Clionadh Raleigh, ACLED’s Executive Director said.
“Fatality numbers are only one approximation of the abject tragedy and terror forced upon Yemenis from several sides. This cannot be overstated”.
Yemen has been devastated by a multi-sided conflict since 2014 involving local, regional, and international actors.
The Houthis, a group of Zaydi Shia Muslims, exploited widespread anger against President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in 2014 and toppled his government in early 2015, triggering one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Groups such as Save The Children have recently reported that an additional 85,000 children may have died from hunger and starvation since the start of the Saudi-led offensive.
The ACLED said the port city of Hodeidah witnessed the greatest escalation of violence in 2018, with an 820 percent increase in total conflict-related fatalities.
WATCH: Differences slow down Sweden peace talks to end Yemen war (2:13)
Fighting in Hodeidah – the main gateway for imports of relief supplies and commercial goods into the country – escalated on June 13 when the Saudi-UAE alliance launched a wide-ranging operation to retake the city from the Houthi rebels.
Riyadh and Abu Dhabi see Hodeidah as the main entry point for weapons for the Houthis and have accused their regional rival Iran of sending missiles to the rebels, a charge Tehran has denied.
Aid agencies have long warned that the assault on Hodeidah could shut down one of the last remaining lifelines for millions of hungry civilians.
Out of a population of 28 million people, a staggering eight million – a number greater than the entire population of Switzerland – are on the verge of famine.
Smiles and handshakes
The country’s warring sides have been meeting in the Swedish town of Rimbo, some 60km north of the capital Stockholm, since Thursday to discuss ways to end the fighting.
While they appeared to have reached a stumbling block over the fate of the port of Hodeidah, they edged closer to securing a deal on prisoners on Tuesday.
Representatives from the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels exchanged two lists containing a combined total of 15,000 names, according to Hamza al-Kamali, a member of the Yemeni government accompanying the delegation at the talks.
Kamali told Al Jazeera that after a closed-door meeting, which included smiles and handshakes, the Houthis were expected to release several high-ranking commanders within the coming days, including the former minister of defence, General Mahmoud Al Subaihi, and relatives of late President Hadi.
A document obtained by Al Jazeera said the Houthis would release more than 800 teachers, 359 children, 357 tribal figures, 200 Imams and 88 women.
The talks in Sweden have come at a critical time as about 20 million Yemenis, more than two-thirds of the country, are going hungry and in urgent need of food assistance.
Yemen’s currency, the riyal, has depreciated by nearly 180 percent in recent months, pushing even more communities towards starvation.
Food prices have increased by an average of 68 percent and the price of commodities such as petrol, diesel and cooking gas has increased substantially.