Washington: The US has decided to halt refuelling of Saudi planes engaged in the Yemen war in the wake of the killing of US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

The move comes after international outrage over the murder of Khashoggi, who was known to have been critical of the Saudi government. The US lawmakers had threatened to take action and this halting of refuelling operations will put to an end one of the most controversial aspects of US assistance to Saudi Arabia's war effort in Yemen.   

Saudi Arabia has been criticised for its actions in Yemen, particularly after a string of high-profile coalition strikes that have killed scores of civilians, many of them children.

At present, the Pentagon provides refuelling capabilities for about 20% of coalition planes flying sorties over Yemen. The Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the US have threatened to take action in Congress next week over the refuelling operations.

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Saudi Arabia, in a statement released by its embassy in Washington on Friday, said it had decided to request an end to US aerial refuelling for its operations in Yemen because it could now handle it by itself. US defence secretary Jim Mattis backed the decision and said the US government was consulted.

The US’s support to Saudi campaign - including Democrats who won control of the House of Representatives in elections on Tuesday - have long questioned US involvement in the war, which has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than 2 million and led to widespread famine in Yemen since it began in 2015.

"I've been calling for this for over three years," said Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California.

In August, Mattis had warned that US support to the coalition was "not unconditional," noting it must do "everything humanly possible to avoid any innocent loss of life". 

Mattis last month made a surprise call for a ceasefire in Yemen and urged warring parties to enter negotiations within the next 30 days. The United Nations has now pushed that deadline back to the end of the year.

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"We shouldn't be supporting coalition war crimes and I look forward to continuing to scrutinise the US's role in Yemen when we're in the majority next Congress."

Even as President Donald Trump's administration has condemned Khashoggi's murder, the White House has sought to preserve its relationship with Saudi Arabia.

A coordinated decision by Washington and Riyadh to halt the refuelling could be an attempt by both countries to forestall further action by the Congress.

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

The US sees Saudi Arabia as a key ally, especially in terms of providing a counter to Iranian influence in the region. This decision of the US to stop refuelling the Saudi planes could strain ties between the two countries. 

(With inputs from agencies)