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Saudi denies US moves to curb military support over Yemen – 48 Yemeni soldiers dead in IS-claimed bombing

RIYADH, Dec 18, (Agencies): Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Sunday denied media reports that the United States had decided to limit military support, including a planned arms sale, to the kingdom. US officials have said Washington decided to curb backing for Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen, including halting the supply of some precisionguided munitions, because of concerns over widespread civilian casualties. Yemen’s 20-month-old war has killed more than 10,000 people and triggered humanitarian crises, including chronic food shortages, in the poorest country in the Arabian peninsula.

Jubeir, speaking in Arabic, told a joint news conference with visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry: “This news that has been leaked contradicts reality. The reality is that converting regular bombs to smart bombs would be welcome because smart bombs are more accurate.” “The kingdom has received nothing official from the American government in this regard,” he said in answer to a question on reported delays of US weapons supplies. Kerry appeared to play down the reports of delays to weapons supplies, suggesting procurement was often a slow process, and adding he had worked hard to move sales “forward”.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March 2015, several months after the Iran- Allied Houthi movement ousted the Saudi-backed government, and has launched thousands of air strikes on the Houthis and their local allies. The kingdom has been subject to frequent cross-border raids and missile attacks by the Houthi movement. Meanwhile, a suicide bomber from the Islamic State group killed at least 48 Yemeni soldiers in Aden Sunday, the latest in a string of deadly attacks against recruits in the country’s second city.

Military officials and medics said dozens more were wounded in the attack that targeted a crowd of servicemen who had gathered to collect their salaries near a base in northeastern Aden. “The number of those killed has risen to 48, while 84 others were wounded,” Aden health chief Abdel Nasser al-Wali told AFP. Wali had initially given a toll of 40 dead, warning that the number was likely to increase due to “critical cases.”

The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who blended in among soldiers crowding outside the house of the head of special security forces in Aden, Colonel Nasser Sarea, in Al- Arish district, near Al-Sawlaban base. Sarea said the bomber “took advantage of the gathering and detonated his explosives among them”. Images from the blast scene showed blood stains and scattered shoes across the sandy ground. IS claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement that a “martyrdom seeker” had gotten through security checkpoints before blowing himself up. The attack comes eight days after a similar bombing at Al-Sawlaban claimed by IS killed 48 soldiers and wounded 29 others. Yemeni authorities have fought a months-long campaign against jihadists who remain active in the south and east of the impoverished Arabian peninsula country.

IS and its jihadist rival al-Qaeda have taken advantage of a conflict between the government and Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who control the capital Sanaa, to bolster their presence across much of the south. The two extremist groups have carried out a spate of attacks in Aden, Yemen’s second city and headquarters of the internationally recognised government whose forces retook the port city from the Houthis last year. But al-Qaeda has distanced itself from the Dec 10 attack, claiming that it tends to avoid “the shedding of any Muslim blood” while focusing on fighting the “Americans and their allies.”

Al-Qaeda has long been the dominant jihadist force in Yemen, located next to oil-flush Saudi Arabia and key shipping lanes, but experts say IS is seeking to supplant its extremist rival. Washington regards al-Qaeda’s Yemen-based branch as its most dangerous and has kept up a long-running drone war against its commanders. In August an IS militant rammed his explosives-laden car into an army recruiting centre in Aden, killing 71 people in the deadliest jihadist attack on the city in over a year. A Saudi-led coalition has since March 2015 supported loyalist forces fighting the Houthis.

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