WASHINGTON / CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and the United States have agreed to stop refueling planes of the Saudi coalition fighting Houthi insurgents in Yemen, ending an element of division of support American war that pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
The decision, announced Saturday by the coalition and confirmed by Washington, comes at a time when Riyadh, already under surveillance for the killing of civilians during air strikes in Yemen, faces a global outcry and possible sanctions for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at his consulate in Istanbul. October 2nd.
At the end of last month, the United States and Britain called for a ceasefire in Yemen to support the UK's efforts to end the war that lasted nearly four years. years and that has killed more than 10,000 people and triggered the most urgent humanitarian crisis in the world.
"Recently, the Kingdom and the Coalition have increased their ability to independently carry out air refueling in Yemen. As a result, in consultation with the United States, the Coalition called for the cessation of in-flight refueling assistance for its operations in Yemen, "he said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia has a fleet of 23 refueling aircraft, including six Airbus 330 MRTTs used for Yemen, while the United Arab Emirates has six, Saudi channel Al Arabiya announced on Saturday. al-Hadath.
Riyadh also has nine KC-130 Hercules aircraft that can be used, the statement added.
US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said the US government had been consulted on the decision and Washington supported the decision while continuing to work with the alliance to reduce civilian casualties and expand efforts humanitarian.
Any coordinated decision by Washington and Riyadh could be an attempt to prevent any action threatened in Congress by the legislature next week about refueling operations.
However, the interruption of refueling could have little concrete effect on the conflict, considered an indirect war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Only one-fifth of coalition aircraft need in-flight refueling from the United States, US officials said.
BATTLE FOR HODEIDAH
The Sunni Muslim alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates recently stepped up its military operations against the Iranian Houthi Alignment Movement, including in the main port city of Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.
"The continued escalation of attacks … by the US-Saudi-UAE coalition confirms that US calls for a ceasefire are empty words," said Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, chairman of the supreme committee of the group's revolution. a column published by the Washington Post on Friday.
The call for a ceasefire was an attempt to "save face after humiliation" caused by the murder of columnist Washington Post Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi politics, who put a strain on relations between Riyadh and West.
Hodeidah became a key battleground in the war in which the coalition intervened in 2015 to restore the internationally overthrown government that was overthrown by the Houthis.
US agencies warn that a total attack on the Red Sea port, an entry point for 80 percent of Yemen's food imports and relief supplies, could trigger famine in the impoverished country.
The World Food Program (WFP) announced Thursday that it plans to double food aid in Yemen, with the aim of reaching up to 14 million people "to avoid starvation mass ".
The coalition's airstrikes, which rely on western weapons and intelligence, have often hit schools, hospitals and markets, killing thousands of Yemeni civilians.
UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths is hoping to call the Yemeni conflict parties for peace talks by the end of the year.
The coalition expressed hope in its statements that its efforts would result in a negotiated settlement, including an end to the Houthi missile attacks targeting Saudi cities and ships off Hodeidah Harbor.
Mattis said all parties support Griffiths' efforts.
"The United States and the coalition plan to collaborate in building legitimate Yemeni forces to defend the Yemeni people, secure the borders of their country and help counter the efforts of al-Qaeda and the state. in Yemen and the region, "he said.
The last round of peace talks in Geneva in September collapsed when the Houthis did not show up, claiming that their delegation had been prevented from traveling. The Yemeni government accused the group of attempting to sabotage the negotiations.
Additional report by Makini Brice in Washington; Written by Ghaida Ghantous; Edited by Neil Fullick