US to halt refueling of Saudi-led coalition aircraft

President Trump shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House in March

President Trump shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House in March

The decision would end a tangible and controversial aspect of United States support for the Saudi coalition's war in Yemen, the Washington Post newspaper said on Friday. USA officials told Reuters only a fifth of Saudi-led coalition aircraft require in-air refueling from the United States.

The United States is halting refueling of aircraft from the Saudi-led coalition engaged in Yemen, Saudi Arabia said on Saturday, a move that would end one of the most divisive aspects of USA assistance to the Saudi war effort.

The decision was made amid mounting criticism of the three-year-old Yemen conflict and Saudi-led coalition air strikes that a United Nations human rights panel said is responsible for scores of civilian deaths, often using US-supplied munitions.

"The kingdom and member states have recently increased its capabilities to independently supply its aircraft with air-to-air operations in support of legitimacy in Yemen".

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

In August this year, he warned that U.S. support for the coalition was "not unconditional", noting it must do "everything humanly possible to avoid any innocent loss of life".

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.

Yemeni forces managed to kill and capture dozens of Houthi fighters who lost their strategic positions within the city of Hodeidah.

The latest deaths raised to 382, the number of fighters killed on both sides since the battle for Hodeida intensified on Nov 1.

Mattis last month made a surprise call for a ceasefire in Yemen and urged warring parties to enter negotiations within the next 30 days.

Almost 200 combatants have been killed in the past week, according to military sources. The death toll has not been updated in years, however, and is likely to be far higher.

The announcement came amid worldwide outrage over Riyadh's killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in October, though Norway did not mention the murder specifically.

The Saudi statement on Saturday said the kingdom hoped the upcoming UN-sponsored talks "in a third country" - which have since been delayed till the end of the year - would help end the war.

Hodeida port is crucial for aid delivery and food imports to Yemen, where starvation looms over 14 million people and a child dies every 10 minutes from easily preventable diseases, according to the UN.

The US sees Saudi Arabia as a key ally, especially in terms of providing a counter to Iranian influence in the region.

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