United States welcomes Saudi's 'decision' to independently refuel planes engaged in Yemen war

Yemen forces push towards Hodeida as death toll mounts

The US Defence Secretary, Jim Mattis, has voiced support for the Saudi decision to end US aerial refueling of Saudi-led coalition aircraft engaged in Yemen's war and said it was taken in consultation with the US government.

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.

The Saudi and UAE-led war in Yemen has caused increasing global unease after high-profile coalition air 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 refueling in Yemen", read a statement released on state-run Saudi television.

"As a result, in consultation with the United States, the Coalition has requested the cessation of inflight refuelling support for its operations in Yemen", it said in a statement.

Colonel Ahmad Ali al-Johayli, head of the Giants Brigade, said that the Yemeni army forces advanced in the northern and western parts of Hodeidah with the support of the Arab Coalition.

Mattis in August noted that US support was conditioned on a Saudi commitment to doing "everything humanly possible" to avoid any loss of innocent life and Riyadh supporting a United Nations -brokered peace process to end the civil war.

American officials earlier said Saudi forces now handled some 80 percent of their refueling operations, which crucially allow aircraft to fly longer sorties over possible targets and can ease the pressure for quick strikes.

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

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Save the Children reported nearly 100 air strikes - five times as many as in the whole first week of October - at the weekend.

In the past 24 hours, 27 Iran-backed Huthi rebels and 12 pro-government fighters have been killed 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 intensified battle for Hodeida comes despite Mattis calling last month for a ceasefire and negotiations between Yemen's warring parties within 30 days.

Almost 10,000 people have since been killed and the country now stands at the brink of starvation.

Human rights groups say the real death toll could be five times as high.

The coalition expressed hope in its statement that his efforts would lead to a negotiated settlement, including an end to Houthi missile attacks that have targeted Saudi cities and vessels off the port of Hodeidah.

The move also comes at tense time for Washington and Riyadh following the death of US -based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey last month.

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