US halts refuelling support
Saudi-backed forces push Yemen offensive
ADEN, Nov 10: The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen halted a controversial refuelling arrangement with the US on Saturday, as Riyadh-backed troops took the main hospital in the strategic port city of Hodeida.
The suspension of US assistance to re-fuel coalition aircraft comes as Washington's backing of the war effort faces increased scrutiny following international outrage over journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder last month in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
US Democrats, buoyed by a string of midterm election victories, have sought to curtail Washington's military support to Saudi Arabia and demanded greater oversight of a conflict dubbed by the UN as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
But in an apparent face-saving move, Saudi Arabia sought to project the decision to end in-flight refuelling as its own, not Washington's.
"Recently the kingdom and the coalition has increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refuelling in Yemen," the official Saudi Press Agency said early Saturday.
"As a result, in consultation with the United States, the coalition has requested cessation of inflight refuelling support for its operations in Yemen."
Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said he supported Saudi Arabia's "decision".
The grinding Saudi-led war in Yemen has caused growing international unease, after a string of high-profile coalition strikes that have killed scores of civilians, many of them children.
Saturday's announcement comes as forces loyal to the Saudi and Emirati-backed government push a renewed offensive to capture the rebel-held port of Hodeida, the point of entry for nearly all UN-supervised aid, despite warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe.
Just hours after the announcement, Yemeni officials said pro-government forces had captured the May 22 Hospital, the main medical facility in the city of some 600,000 people.
Amnesty International had accused the Houthis of "deliberate militarisation" of the facility after they posted snipers on its roof.
Backed by Saudi-led air raids, loyalist troops for the first time entered residential neighbourhoods of Hodeida on Thursday, using bulldozers to remove concrete road blocks installed by the rebels.
The Houthi Shiite rebels have launched fierce barrages of mortar fire to slow an advance by pro-government forces, with their leader vowing not to surrender despite being heavily outnumbered. -AFP