Published: Sat, November 10, 2018
Worldwide | By Jermaine Blake

Saudi coalition halts refueling deal with US for Yemen war

Saudi coalition halts refueling deal with US for Yemen war

A controversial refueling arrangement between the United States and the Saudi-led coalition that is bombing Yemen was ended on Saturday, halting a key part of Washington's involvement in the conflict.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said early Saturday it had "requested cessation of inflight refueling" by the US for its fighter jets after American officials said they would stop the operations amid growing anger over civilian casualties from the kingdom's airstrikes.

The move comes amid an ongoing global outcry over Saudi actions in Yemen, particularly after a string of high-profile coalition strikes that have killed scores of civilians, many of them children. Only a fifth of coalition aircraft require in-air refuelling from the United States, U.S. officials said.

The US Defence Secretary, Jim Mattis, has voiced support for the Saudi decision to end US aerial refueling of Saudi-led coalition aircraft engaged in Yemen's war and said it was taken in consultation with the US government.

Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide told Norwegian news agency NTB on Friday that the move was temporary until "a comprehensive assessment of recent developments in Saudi Arabia and the region and the unsettling situation in Yemen" is completed.

Earlier this year, Mr Mattis had defended U.S. military support to Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen, when politicians considered forcing the Pentagon to end Washington's involvement.

The Pentagon was providing refueling capabilities for about 20 per cent of coalition planes flying sorties over Yemen.

Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the conflict between embattled Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, whose government is recognised by the United Nations, and the Houthis in 2015.

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Pro-government forces are now pushing deeper into Hodeida amid fierce fighting.

Last month, Mr Mattis made a surprise call for a ceasefire in Yemen and urged warring parties to enter negotiations within 30 days.

The World Health Organization estimates almost 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen's war since 2015, although rights groups say the toll could be five times higher.

The rebels have controlled Hodeida since 2014 when they overran the capital Sanaa and then swept through much of the rest of the country triggering Saudi-led military intervention the following year and a devastating war of attrition.

The decision by Americans to pull out also comes amid outrage by US lawmakers from both political parties over the October 2 slaying of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The death toll has not been updated in years, however, and is likely to be far higher.

United Nations agencies say some 14 million people are at risk of famine in the country - described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with the World Food Programme saying it will almost double food aid to the country to avert "mass starvation".

He told them cutting off support could jeopardise cooperation on counter-terrorism and reduce American influence with Saudi Arabia.

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