Saudi coali­tion halts re­fu­elling deal with US over role in Ye­men

Bangkok Post - - WORLD -

>> DUBAI: A con­tro­ver­sial re­fu­elling ar­range­ment be­tween the United States and the Saudi-led coali­tion that is bomb­ing Ye­men ended yes­ter­day, 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 (SPA) said the coali­tion asked for the “ces­sa­tion of in-flight re­fu­elling sup­port” from the United States.

Riyadh’s grind­ing war in Ye­men has 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 re­fu­elling in Ye­men,” the SPA said.

“As a re­sult, in con­sul­ta­tion with the United States, the coali­tion has re­quested ces­sa­tion of in-flight re­fu­elling sup­port for its op­er­a­tions in Ye­men.”

Mr Mat­tis said: “We sup­port the de­ci­sion by the King­dom of Saudi Ara­bia”.

In Au­gust, the de­fence 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 re­fu­elling ca­pa­bil­i­ties for about 20% of coali­tion planes fly­ing sor­ties over Ye­men.

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

The Shia Houthi 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 vow­ing 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 of its strate­gic port, the Nor­we­gian Refugee Coun­cil said.

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 Houthi 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 road­blocks in­stalled by the rebels.

Mr 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 UN 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 Or­gan­i­sa­tion. Hu­man rights groups say the real death toll may be five times higher.

GROW­ING OUT­CRY: Boys play in the rub­ble of a home de­stroyed by an air strike in the Old City of Sana’a, Ye­men.

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