Saudi coali­tion halts con­tro­ver­sial re­fu­elling ar­range­ment with US for Ye­men war

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - INTERNATIONAL -

Dubai, Nov 10 ( AFP) - A con­tro­ver­sial re­fu­elling 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 move came as war­planes pounded the key strate­gic port city of Hodeida and af­ter Wash­ing­ton's sup­port for the cam­paign was placed un­der in­creased scru­tiny fol­low­ing the brazen mur­der of dis­si­dent jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi by a Saudi in­tel­li­gence team.

Pen­tagon chief Jim Mat­tis said he sup­ported Saudi Ara­bia's “de­ci­sion” af­ter the official Saudi Press Agency said the coali­tion asked for the “ces­sa­tion of in­flight re­fu­elling sup­port” from the United States.

Riyadh's grind­ing war in Ye­men as caused grow­ing in­ter­na­tional out­cry, par­tic­u­larly af­ter a string of high-pro­file coali­tion strikes that have killed scores of civil­ians, many of them chil­dren.

“Re­cently the King­dom and the coali­tion has in­creased its ca­pa­bil­ity to in­de­pen­dently con­duct in­flight re­fu­el­ing in Ye­men,” the SPA said.

“As a re­sult, in con­sul­ta­tion with the United States, the coali­tion has re­quested ces­sa­tion of in­flight re­fu­el­ing sup­port for its op­er­a­tions in Ye­men.” Mat­tis said: “We sup­port the de­ci­sion by the King­dom of Saudi Ara­bia.” In Au­gust the de­fense sec­re­tary warned that US sup­port for the coali­tion was “not un­con­di­tional,” not­ing it must do “ev­ery­thing hu­manly pos­si­ble to avoid any in­no­cent loss of life.” The Pen­tagon had pro­vided re­fu­el­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties for about 20 per­cent of coali­tion planes fly­ing sor­ties over Ye­men.

- Fresh of­fen­sive

Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies in­ter­vened in the con­flict be­tween em­bat­tled Ye­meni Pres­i­dent Abedrabbo Man­sour Hadi, whose govern­ment is rec­og­nized by the United Na­tions, and the Huthis in 2015.

The Shi­ite Huthi rebels on Fri­day launched fierce bar­rages of mor­tar fire as they bat­tled to slow an ad­vance by pro-govern­ment forces deeper into the port city of Hodeida, mil­i­tary sources said.

Their chief has vowed his troops would never surrender de­spite be­ing vastly out­num­bered, shelled govern­ment po­si­tions in the south of the Red Sea city, loy­al­ist of­fi­cials said.

But de­spite the “in­tense at­tacks”, loy­al­ist forces made fresh ad­vances in eastern sec­tors of Hodeida.

Over one week into the re­newed of­fen­sive, civil­ians re­ported re­lent­less air strikes, low-fly­ing jets and Apache he­li­copters, mor­tars and missiles on the out­skirts of the city and within five kilo­me­tres ( three miles) of its strate­gic port, the Nor­we­gian Refugee Coun­cil said in a state­ment.

The Iran-backed rebels said their fight­ers had cut off govern­ment sup­ply routes in four sec­tors of Hodeida province, al­though there was no con­fir­ma­tion from the loy­al­ist side.

On Fri­day med­i­cal sources said that 110 Huthi rebels and 22 pro-govern­ment forces had been killed in 24 hours of vi­o­lence, bring­ing to at least 382 the num­ber of com­bat­ants killed since the bat­tle for Hodeida in­ten­si­fied on November 1.

Backed by Saudi air raids, loy­al­ist troops for the first time en­tered res­i­den­tial neigh­bour­hoods on Thurs­day, us­ing bull­doz­ers to re­move con­crete road blocks in­stalled by the rebels.

- Cease­fire plea

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

The United Na­tions has now pushed that dead­line back to the end of the year.

Nearly 10,000 Ye­me­nis have been killed in the con­flict since 2015, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion. Hu­man rights groups say the real death toll may be five times higher.

UN 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 nearly dou­ble food aid to the coun­try to avert “mass star­va­tion”.

In­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism over US sup­port for Saudi Ara­bia grew fur­ther fol­low­ing the slay­ing of jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi in the Saudi con­sulate in Is­tan­bul.

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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