By Servet Gunerigok
WASHINGTON (AA) – Saudi Arabia on Saturday requested the United States to halt refueling the Kingdom's aircraft fighting in the Yemen war.
The Saudi press agency reported the Saudi-led coalition has increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refueling in the war-torn country.
"As a result, in consultation with the United States, the Coalition has requested cessation of inflight refueling support for its operations in Yemen," it said in a statement.
A decision on halting refueling the Saudi planes would have little impact on the fight, said the U.S. media, adding it would allow the U.S. administration to signal action against Saudi Arabia.
According to the agency, the coalition hoped that the upcoming UN sponsored negotiations in a third country would lead to a negotiated settlement and see an end to the aggression by the Iranian-backed Houthi militias' against the Yemeni people and countries in the region, including the threat of ballistic missiles and unarmed aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The move comes amid outrage by American lawmakers about the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
After offering vacillating explanations for Khashoggi's disappearance, Riyadh has acknowledged he was killed in a fist fight after he entered the diplomatic facility.
Khashoggi's body has not returned to his family despite calls for the Kingdom to do so amid speculation it was chemically dissolved.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said the U.S. supported Riyadh decision for Washington to halt refueling of aircraft.
"We are all focused on supporting resolution of the conflict, led by UN Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths," Mattis said in a statement. "The U.S. and the Coalition are planning to collaborate on building up legitimate Yemeni forces to defend the Yemeni people, secure their country's borders, and contribute to counter Al Qaeda and ISIS [Daesh] efforts in Yemen and the region."
He said Washington will continue working with the caalition and Yemen to minimize civilian casualties and expand urgent humanitarian efforts throughout the country.
Impoverished Yemen has remained wracked by violence since 2014, when Shia Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including the capital, Sanaa.
The conflict escalated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies launched a devastating air campaign in Yemen aimed at rolling back Houthi gains.
*Handan Kazanci in Istanbul contributed to the story