RIYADH – The United States said on Saturday it would stop providing refueling assistance to the Arab coalition’s aircraft fighting against Houthi rebels in Yemen after receiving a request to do so by the Saudi-led alliance.
The Saudi official news agency SPA reported that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the coalition have enhanced their capacity to independently conduct in-flight refueling and, therefore, have asked Washington to stop its refueling support for the operations carried out in Yemen.
“We support the decision by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, after consultations with the US government, to use the coalition’s own military capabilities to conduct in-flight refueling in support of its operations in Yemen,” US Defense Secretary James Mattis said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Yemeni forces have taken control of the May 22 hospital – the second-largest clinic in the east of the Yemeni port city of Hodeida – from Houthi rebels after heavy fighting, according to military sources.
This decision to cease refueling operations puts an end to one of the decisive aspects of the US’ support for the Arab coalition in a conflict that has created the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 1.8 million children suffering acute malnutrition, including 400,000 who are in imminent danger of starving to death.
Mattis stressed that all players were focused on backing a resolution to the conflict, with the efforts being led by the United Nations’ special envoy to the region, Martin Griffiths.
“The US and the coalition are planning to collaborate on building up legitimate Yemeni forces to defend the Yemeni people, secure their country’s borders, and contribute to counter al-Qaeda and ISIS efforts in Yemen and the region,” the American defense secretary said.
Mattis added that his country would continue working with the coalition and Yemen to minimize civilian casualties and expand urgent humanitarian efforts throughout the Arab nation.
The coalition’s request comes as human rights organizations have called for the cessation of aid to Saudi Arabia that contributes to the war in Yemen, a conflict in which the Arab coalition has intervened since March 2015.
This step comes after Riyadh has been in the spotlight over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose body was still missing after he disappeared following his entry into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
Khashoggi’s death has sparked a wave of international outrage to the extent that some world leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have suspended the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia until the case is clarified.