USA halts refueling Saudi jets but keeps military aid

Yemen forces push towards Hodeida as death toll mounts

Aid groups warned of the plight of civilians in Yemen's contested Hodeida where casualties are mounting as a Saudi-led coalition is fighting to take the port city from the country's Shiite rebels.

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.

The decision came after a request from the coalition members for a cessation of United States refueling as they have increased their own independent capabilities to refuel aircraft inflight, the coalition said.

Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis defended US military support to Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen, when lawmakers weighed forcing the Pentagon to end Washington's involvement in the conflict.

Beyond refuelling, the United States provides limited intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition and sells it weaponry used in Yemen's war.

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

The implication of the decision are not clear as of yet but the Associated Press news agency reported U.S. officials saying earlier that Saudi forces now handled about 80 percent of refuelling operations, a critical function that allows aircraft to fly longer sorties.

A Saudi-led coalition launched a massive military campaign in the country in 2015 to root out Houthi rebels who had taken the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and ousted then-president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.


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

In the past 24 hours, fighting claimed the lives of 27 rebels and 12 pro-government fighters on the outskirts of Hodeida city, a medical source told AFP on Wednesday.

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.

The move, announced by the coalition on Saturday and confirmed by Washington, comes at a time when Riyadh, already under scrutiny for civilian deaths in Yemen air strikes, is facing global furore and potential sanctions over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its Istanbul consulate on October 2.

According to the United Nations, at least 10,000 people have been killed since the coalition entered the conflict. The experts documented 6,475 deaths from March 2015 until last June, but said the real figure is likely to be significantly higher.

United Nations Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths is aiming to convene the country's warring parties for peace talks by the end of the year.

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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