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US Senate introduces bill to halt weapons sales to Saudi Arabia

Bill would also impose sanctions on anyone blocking humanitarian access in Yemen and anyone supporting Houthis in Yemen
Trump holds chart of weapon sales as he welcomes Mohammed bin Salman in Oval Office on 20 March (Reuters)

Republican and Democrat US senators introduced legislation on Thursday seeking to strike back at Saudi Arabia over the death of a Saudi journalist at a consulate in Turkey and for its role in Yemen's devastating civil war.

If it were to become law, the bill would suspend weapon sales to Saudi Arabia and prohibit US refueling of Saudi coalition aircraft for Riyadh's campaign in Yemen against the Houthis, Shia Muslim fighters that Yemen's neighbours view as agents of Iran, the politicians said.

It also would impose sanctions on anyone blocking humanitarian access in Yemen and anyone supporting the Houthis in Yemen.

Sponsored by three Republican and three Democrat senators, the legislation reflects continued dissatisfaction in the US Congress over the Yemen war, which has killed more than 10,000 people and created the world's most urgent humanitarian crisis.

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That frustration was exacerbated by the killing in October at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident who wrote for the Washington Post.

Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said sanctions on 17 Saudis announced earlier on Thursday by President Donald Trump's administration were not enough to ensure a credible investigation of Khashoggi's death and an end to hostilities in Yemen.

"We are putting teeth behind these demands with regular oversight, sanctions and suspension of weapons sales and refueling support," he said in a statement.

"This legislation is an important way to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for various acts in Yemen as well as the death of Jamal Khashoggi," said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, another sponsor.

The bill's other sponsors include Republican Senators Todd Young and Susan Collins and Democrats Jack Reed and Jeanne Shaheen.

Still, earlier on Thursday, the Senate rejected a measure to block US arms sales to Bahrain over the island kingdom’s involvement in the war in Yemen.

On Wednesday, the Republican majority in the House managed to block a Democrat-sponsored resolution to end Washington's support for Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen by advancing a bill to remove gray wolves from the protected species list.

Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna had invoked the 1973 War Powers Act in introducing the resolution, which gave the measure a "privileged" status, allowing it to bypass the various committees that bills normally go through in Congress.

Khanna's resolution was stripped of the status when House Republicans voted to strip gray wolves of federal protection.

"There's not a single American who wouldn't want the violence to end," Khanna said.

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