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14 Feb, 2019 05:46

House says US is waging war in Yemen, votes for 30-day deadline to end assistance to Saudis

House says US is waging war in Yemen, votes for 30-day deadline to end assistance to Saudis

The US House of Representatives has overwhelmingly voted to stop military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen. Lawmakers invoked a rarely used resolution curbing the president's powers to start a war.

Congress' lower chamber has passed H.J. Res. 37 by 248 votes against 177. While the Democrat-controlled House had enough votes to advance the motion, 18 Republicans broke party lines and threw their weight behind the document as well.

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The resolution argues that the US entanglement in Yemen, where it provides military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab states, is nothing less than war and thus requires congressional authorization.

The resolution says Trump must remove the US military "from hostilities in or affecting Yemen within 30 days unless Congress authorizes a later withdrawal date, issues a declaration of war, or specifically authorizes the use of the Armed Forces."

The resolution specifically prohibits any in-flight refueling for coalition warplanes. It also stipulates that nothing in the resolution shall harm the operation against Al-Qaeda there.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), the main sponsor behind the document, hailed the vote as a historic breakthrough nearing the end of an "illegal and unconstitutional involvement in Yemen." He said that with the resolution's passing, lawmakers "are closer than ever to ending our complicity in this humanitarian catastrophe."

The vote has also drawn praise from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who introduced a similar resolution into the Senate last December. Building on bipartisan dismay at the Trump administration's lackluster response to the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate, the resolution was passed by 56 to 41 votes but did not survive the then-Republican-controlled House.

This time, history might repeat itself, since it is yet unclear how many Republicans, who have been vocal in their criticism of Trump's handling of the Saudi controversy, are ready to follow up on their criticisms with actions.

For instance, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who once said that "there was no way" that Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, known as MBS, was not aware of the killing, said that he would not support the measure to withdraw assistance from the coalition, insisting that the Yemen bloodshed and the journalist's murder are two separate issues and should be handled as such.

"I think that's separate – it has to be, from a point of pragmatism – from Mr Khashoggi and his murder," Rubio said, as reported by the New York Times.

If the Republican majority in the Senate approves the resolution, it would defy President Donald Trump, who has become a lone defender of MBS, brushing off both his own intelligence services and mounting public criticism for standing up for the Saudi strongman despite a history of human rights abuses and now murder on his watch. In case the motion is passed in the upper chamber, Trump might use his veto powers, which would be a first for his presidency.

The White House has so far vehemently opposed the resolution, saying in a statement on Monday that it was based on an "erroneous premise" and would deal a blow to the US' ability to contain the spread of violent extremism.

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The Trump administration argued that refueling Saudi jets, sharing intelligence, and providing logistics support to the Saudis does not mean the US has been dragged into hostilities. It warned that any attempt to limit the administration's powers to help Saudi Arabia "would raise serious constitutional concerns to the extent it seeks to override the president's determination as commander in chief."

The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of inflicting mass casualties, destroying civilian infrastructure with blanket bombings and enforcing an economic blockade that has put war-ravaged Yemen on the brink of famine and total devastation. Over 60,000 have been reported killed as a result of the hostilities and a further 85,000 are believed to have died due to famine, disease outbreaks and lack of medical care.

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