The United States is halting refueling of aircraft from the Saudi-led coalition engaged in Yemen, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia said on Friday, ending one of the most divisive aspects of USA assistance to the Saudi war effort.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said early Saturday it had "requested cessation of inflight refueling" by the USA for its fighter jets after American officials said they would stop the operations amid growing anger over civilian casualties from the kingdom's airstrikes.
Earlier this year, Mr Mattis had defended USA military support to Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen, when politicians considered forcing the Pentagon to end Washington's involvement.
Saudi and Emirati forces, as well as their allies on the ground, have made a renewed push for the Houthi-held Red Sea port city of Hodeida, through which most food and aid enters Yemen. A government military source confirmed the toll.
Global criticism over United States support for Saudi Arabia grew further following the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Beyond refueling, the United States provides limited intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition and sells it weaponry used in Yemen's war.
But new figures show that civilian deaths are going up.
"Today, with God's help, we've been able to take over Thabit Brothers Industrial complex in the east of the city", said a fighter from the Amalqa (Giants) Brigade, a military unit loyal to the Yemeni government.
Aid agencies have long warned that fighting in Hodeidah risks escalating the country's dire humanitarian crisis.More news: Meg Ryan engaged to singer John Mellencamp
More news: Lion Air plane rips wing in another incident after fatal crash
More news: Google's New Android Ecosystem Security Report Provides Play Protect Data in Detail
Even as President Donald Trump's administration has condemned Khashoggi's slaying, the White House has sought to preserve its relationship with Saudi Arabia.
A decision on halting refueling the Saudi planes would have little impact on the fight, said the US media, adding it would allow the USA administration to signal action against Saudi Arabia.
The Pentagon has provided refueling capabilities for about 20% of coalition planes flying sorties over Yemen.
The Saudi acknowledgement, and later USA comments, appeared aimed at suggesting the kingdom was behind the decision.
"The murder of Jamal Khashoggi has certainly put more of a spotlight on the actions of Saudi Arabia in Yemen", she told Al Jazeera. The Post first reported the Trump administration's desire to end the refueling.
That appeal came just days after the United States, in a significant shift, piled pressure on its Saudi ally to end the war by calling for a ceasefire and peace talks.
"We are all focused on supporting resolution of the conflict, led by UN Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths", Mattis said in a statement.
The conflict in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, began when the government slashed fuel subsidies in the summer of 2014, prompting angry protests and forcing thousands onto the capital's streets.