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US senators renew pressure on Saudi Arabia over unpaid $750m Yemen aid

Lawmakers send letter to Saudi crown prince warning that five million Yemenis could lose access to clean drinking water unless aid fulfilled
UN officials have criticised several countries for failing to meet aid commitments to Yemen (AFP)

US senators have revived an effort to pressure Saudi Arabia to fulfill its commitment to provide $750m this year to help the people of Yemen, according to a letter seen by the Reuters news agency on Wednesday.

The letter, sent on Tuesday to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, acknowledged past Saudi contributions for aid in Yemen, but said the Saudis have provided just a small share of a current $750m commitment.

The letter was led by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy and Republican Senator Todd Young, who are among the most vocal lawmakers pressing for a strong US response to Saudi Arabia over its human rights record, including its role in the war in Yemen.

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The letter said that the United Nations was counting on the funding for programmes to provide vaccinations, food, fuel and medicine.

"If funding is not received by the end of October, five million people - in a country facing the largest cholera outbreak in modern history - will lose access to clean water," it said.

The war in Yemen, where the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates have led an air campaign against Houthi rebels, is considered one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters.

UN officials have called out several countries for failing to meet aid commitments. 

On 21 August, the world body warned that 22 "life-saving" aid programmes in Yemen would be forced to close if countries' funds were not provided.

Khashoggi anniversary

Many members of Congress, including some of US President Donald Trump's fellow Republicans, have criticised the president's close ties to Riyadh for months.

The lawmakers have backed several efforts - which have failed so far - to stop the president from selling arms to the kingdom without congressional approval or providing support to the Saudi-UAE air campaign.

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Murphy and Young plan to force another Senate vote on US security assistance to Saudi Arabia, using a provision of US rights law that allows Congress to request a vote on any country's human rights practices.

A Senate aide noted that concern about Saudi Arabia is fuelled partly by the upcoming anniversary of the October 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist, at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

The letter was also signed by Republicans Rand Paul, Jerry Moran and Susan Collins, as well as Democrats Benjamin Cardin, Christopher Coons and Cory Booker.

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Reuters said.