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Saudi Arabia signs $1bn tank deal with US as Yemen battle losses mount

US State Department approves sale of more than 130 Abrams tanks on day Saudi-led coalition restarts Yemen air campaign
The arms trade comes at a time when Saudi Arabia is leading a military coalition in Yemen (AFP)

The US State Department has approved the potential sale of more than 130 Abrams battle tanks, 20 armoured recovery vehicles and other equipment, worth about $1.15bn, to Saudi Arabia, defence chiefs said on Tuesday.

The approval notice came on the same day a Saudi-led coaltion launched its first air raids in three months in Yemen, where it is fighting Houthi rebel forces in support of the exiled government of President Abd Rabbuh Hadi.

The US Defence Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees foreign arms sales, said that General Dynamics would be the principal contractor for the sale, and added it would contribute to US national security by improving the security of a regional partner.

"This sale will increase the Royal Saudi Land Force's (RSLF) interoperability with US forces and conveys US commitment to Saudi Arabia's security and armed forces modernisation," the agency said in a notice posted on its website.

In a Pentagon announcement of the deal, it said that 20 tanks were being newly acquired as "battle damage replacements".

The Saudi military is believed to have lost some of its 400-plus Abrams tanks during the fighting against the Houthi militia. 

US politicians have 30 days to block the sale, although such action is rare.

Saudi factory strike kills workers

The approval was announced on the same day the Saudi-led military coalition was reported to have killed 14 workers in an air attack on a food factory in Yemen's rebel-held capital Sanaa.

The attack was the first on the capital in five months, the first in the country for three months, and itself came days after UN-backed peace talks broke down over the weekend.

Medics put the death toll at 14. Factory director Abdullah al-Aqel gave a higher toll of 16 killed and 10 wounded, adding that all the victims were workers.

The al-Aqel factory, which makes crisps, is near a military equipment maintenance centre.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in March last year after Houthi rebels and allied forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh overran Sanaa in September 2014.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on the UN General Assembly in June to suspend Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council until the military coalition stops killing civilians in Yemen.

Al Arabiya on Wednesday also reported that Saudi Arabia had intercepted two ballistic missiles fired at the kingdom by the Houthis. 

Meanwhile, Saudi-led warplanes launched fresh strikes on Houthis on Wednesday, attacking positions in Amran province, north of the Sanaa.

Tribal sources also said air raids hit rebel positions around their northern province of Saada.

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