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British PM May backs call for de-escalation in Yemen

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday backed a US call for a cessation of hostilities in the Yemen war, a conflict that has killed at least 10,000 people and brought on the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Yemen’s plight and the role of Saudi Arabia in the war have have taken centre stage after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its embassy in Turkey.

May, who is under pressure to end British arms sales to Saudi Arabia to stop their use in the Yemen war, said she supported US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s appeal for a de-escalation but that a ceasefire could only work if there was a political deal.

“We certainly…back the US’s call for de-escalation in Yemen,” May told parliament. “A nationwide ceasefire will only have an effect on the ground if it is underpinned by a political deal between the conflict parties.”

Britain’s foreign minister Jeremy Hunt also told the BBC the US announcement was welcome “because we have been working towards the cessation of hostilities in Yemen for a long time”.

Yemen, one of the poorest Arab countries, is locked in a nearly four-year-old war that pits Iran-aligned Houthi rebels against the government backed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the West.

The Saudi-led coalition has conducted frequent air strikes targeting the Houthis and has often hit civilians, although it denies doing so intentionally.

British exports to Saudi Arabia have provided billions of pounds of revenue for the British arms trade, but opposition has grown as the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen worsened.

A spokesman for Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, which backs an immediate halt to arms supplies to Saudi Arabia, told reporters it was “quite clear that the prime minister is not supporting the call for an urgent ceasefire”.

“That goes to highlight the role that the British government has played in supporting the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen and the direct advice to Saudi military in that campaign by British forces under government direction.”

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