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US Senate votes to end military support for Saudi-led Yemen war

More than 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led coalition intervened [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 December, 2018

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The bipartisan Senate 'yes' vote sends a strong message to the White House over anger on both sides of the aisle towards Riyadh.

The US Senate sent a fresh warning to President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia Thursday by approving a resolution to end US military support for Riyadh's war in Yemen. 

The largely symbolic resolution cannot be debated in the House of Representatives before January, and would likely be vetoed in any case by Trump, who has repeatedly signalled his backing for the Saudi regime.

But the bipartisan Senate 'yes' vote sends a strong message to the White House over anger on both sides of the aisle towards Riyadh, intensified by the mounting civilian death toll and the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

The latest development comes after UN chief Antonio Guterres announced on Thursday a series of breakthroughs in peace talks with the warring parties in Yemen, including a ceasefire for a vital port.

In a highly symbolic gesture on the seventh and final day of the UN-brokered peace talks in Sweden, Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani and rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdelsalam shook hands to loud applause - but both later voiced scepticism in separate press conferences.

If implemented, the deal on the Hodeida port, a key gateway for aid and food imports to a country where 14 million people stand at the brink of famine, would mark a major turning point after four years of devastating war.

The fighting has triggered what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with one child dying every ten minutes of preventable causes.

Withdrawal 'within days'

Guterres, who flew in to Sweden late on Wednesday, announced that the government and Houthi rebels had agreed a ceasefire in the port of Hodeida.

The UN will play a "leading role" in monitoring the Red Sea port, which is under rebel control, and facilitate aid access for the civilian population.

"There is a ceasefire declared for the whole governorate of Hodeida in the agreement and there will be both from the city and the harbour a withdrawal of all forces," Guterres told reporters.

Read more: Trump and Congress face off over Saudi ties

UN special envoy Martin Griffiths, who was due to brief the Security Council on Yemen on Friday, said the pullout should take place "within days".

The rivals have also reached a "mutual understanding" on Yemen's third city of Taiz, the scene of some of the most intense battles in the conflict, to facilitate the delivery of aid.

But no deal has been reached on the future of the airport in the capital Sanaa or on economic measures needed to spare the population from further hunger.

'More than expected'

The January talks will focus on a framework for negotiations in a political process, which Guterres said was the only solution to the conflict.

Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani told reporters the deals were the biggest step forward since the outbreak of the war but remained "hypothetical".

While lead rebel negotiator said the Houthis had made "major concessions" on Hodeida.

The rebels hold both Hodeida and the capital Sanaa while the Saudi led-military coalition controls Yemen's maritime borders and airspace.

Sanaa airport has been closed to commercial flights for nearly three years and Griffiths said its fate would be discussed at the next round.

Analysts said the Rimbo talks progressed better than anticipated, two years after negotiations collapsed with no breakthrough after three months.

"The warring parties must implement the steps agreed in Sweden, in line with international humanitarian law," Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s Yemen Country Director, said.

"The world will be watching. A ceasefire in Hodeidah, and the reopening of Sanaa airport to domestic flights, are important first steps to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Yemen," Kirolos added. 

The Sweden talks mark the first meeting in two years between the northern Houthi rebels and the Hadi government that has been backed since 2015 by the Saudi-led coalition.

The last round of talks, hosted by Kuwait in 2016, collapsed after more than three months of negotiations with no breakthrough.

Western governments have pressed for an end to the war, which massively escalated when the Saudi-led alliance intervened in 2015 to restore the government of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi after Houthis overran the capital.

The Sweden talks mark the first attempt in two years to broker an end to the Yemen conflict, which has killed more than 10,000 people - though rights groups say the actual figure is five times higher.

Some 14 million people are at imminent risk of starvation in Yemen, according to UN estimates.

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