White House urges Saudis, Yemeni rebels to 'immediately cease hostilities'

White House urges Saudis, Yemeni rebels to 'immediately cease hostilities'
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The White House on Friday called on both Saudi Arabian and Yemeni rebels to “immediately cease hostilities” in the bitter, nearly three-year-old Yemen civil war.

“The United States is gravely concerned by the recent escalation in violence and continued dire humanitarian conditions in Yemen,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Friday. “We urge all parties to immediately cease hostilities, reenergize political talks and end the suffering of the Yemeni people.”

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Friday’s statement follows one from President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Fallon responds to Trump: I'll donate to pro-immigrant nonprofit in his name South Carolina GOP candidate expected to make full recovery after car accident Official: US to present North Korea with timeline, 'specific asks' MORE in which he called on Saudi Arabia to lift a month-old blockade on Yemen and allow food, water, medicine and fuel to enter the country.

The Trump administration’s increased engagement on the Yemen civil war comes after humanitarian groups criticized the administration for ignoring the increasingly dire situation there.

Yemen has been embroiled in civil war since early 2015, when Houthi rebels took over the capital of Sanaa and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled to the southern city of Aden. Saudi Arabia, concerned about Iran’s support of the Houthis in a neighboring country, formed a coalition and intervened in support of Hadi.

U.S. support for the campaign includes selling the Saudis weapons, providing limited intelligence and helping with logistics such as air refueling.

The already devastating war escalated last month after Houthis fired a missile on Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capital. The missile is  believed to have been supplied by Iran, and Saudi Arabia responded by imposing a total blockade. Under international pressure, Riyadh partially lifted the blockade, but critics say supplies are still unable to get through.

The war also entered an uncertain new phase this week when Houthis killed their one-time ally, former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Following Saleh’s death, the Saudi-led coalition was reported to have blitzed Sanaa, Yemen's largest city, with an intensified campaign of airstrikes.

In Friday’s statement, the White House said both the Saudis and the Houthis need to allow aid to get through.

“We call on the Saudi-led coalition to facilitate the free flow of humanitarian aid and critical commercial goods, including fuel, through all Yemeni ports and to restore commercial flights through Sana’a Airport,” Sanders said. “The Iranian-backed Houthi militias must allow food, medicine and fuel to be distributed throughout the areas they control, rather than diverted to sustain their military campaign against the Yemeni people. This humanitarian aid must be allowed to immediately reach all points of need.”

The statement also condemned the Houthis’ “brutal repression” of political opponents, including their killing of Saleh, and the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for “arming, advising and enabling” the rebels.

U.S. policy continues to be that the war can only end with political negotiations, Sanders added.

“Successful political negotiations are necessary to ensure that Yemen can flourish, free of the malign influence of Iranian-backed militias operating outside the structures of the state,” she said.

In addition to the White House statement, Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTrump cannot blame policy of separating children on Obama North Korea looked to set up communications back channel through Kushner: report North America wins 2026 bid to host World Cup after lobbying from Trump MORE earlier Friday chided the Saudis for overreaching on the international stage, though he said the United States supports the Saudi crown prince’s internal reforms. Critics have said the crown prince’s moves are more an effort to consolidate power than to enact reform.

“The U.S. strongly supports the reforms that are being undertaken in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Tillerson told reporters in France. “We think they’re important to the future of Saudi Arabia, in terms of not just its stability but also its prosperity for the future. I think with respect to Saudi Arabia’s engagement with Qatar, how they’re handling the Yemen war that they’re engaged in, the Lebanon situation, I think we would encourage them to be a bit more measured and a bit more thoughtful in those actions, to I think fully consider the consequences.”