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UK sales of bombs and missiles to Saudi Arabia increase by almost 500% since start of Yemen war

- 1510143540 yemen saudi arabia - UK sales of bombs and missiles to Saudi Arabia increase by almost 500% since start of Yemen war


The number of British-made bombs and missiles sold to Saudi Arabia since the start of its bloody campaign in Yemen has risen by almost 500 per cent, The Independent can reveal.

More than £4.6bn of arms were sold in the first two years of bombings, with the Government grant increasing numbers of export licences despite mounting evidence of war crimes and massacres at hospitals, schools and weddings.

The United Nations says air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition are the main cause of almost 5,295 civilian deaths and 8,873 casualties confirmed so far, warning that the real figure is “likely to be far higher”.

It has condemned the “entirely man-made catastrophe” leaving millions more on the brink of famine and sparking the world’s worst cholera epidemic, while blacklisting Saudi Arabia for killing and maiming children.

There is also fresh concern over the Kingdom’s attempt to shut all air, land and sea ports into Yemen, which it said was to stop the flow of weapons but will also halt aid imports.

British-made bombs have been found at the scene of bombings deemed to violate international law but the UK has continued its political and material support for Riyadh’s campaign.

Figures from the Department for International Trade (DIT) show that in the two years leading up to the Yemen war, £33m of ML4 licences covering bombs, missiles and countermeasures were approved.

The child victims of Yemen’s civil war

But in the two years since the start of Saudi bombing in March 2015, the figure increased by 457 per cent to £1.9bn, according to calculations by Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT).

Licences covering aircraft including Eurofighter jets have also risen by 70 per cent to £2.6bn in the same period.

Tom Barns, co-director of CAAT, said the Government has been accelerating sales of “equipment being used to commit atrocities in Yemen” as the pace of Saudi-led air strikes increases.

“Over the course of this year the situation in Yemen is only getting worse,” he added. 

“At a time when the UK should at least be putting more consideration into what’s being sold they are giving more and more of these licences.”

The products being sold include Raytheon’s Paveway IV bomb, which was found at the scene of an air strike that hit vital food stores in January last year, and the Brimstone, Storm Shadow, PGM 500 Hakim and Alarm missiles.

Accelerating sales look set to continue after Brexit, with former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon telling a controversial arms fair in London that demand was going “through the roof” because of increasing war and terror.

“As we look to life post Brexit and spread our wings further across the world, it’s high time we do more to compete for a share of this international export market,” he told Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) before his resignation.

Mr Barns said: “We’re being told that Brexit is a time for new opportunities and trading relationships but what that seems to point to more dodgy deals with the Middle East, propping up dictators and warmongering in the region.”

The High Court has ruled that arms exports to Saudi Arabia was legal because the available evidence did not prove “a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law”, but CAAT is hoping to appeal the case.

The campaign group is launching a crowdfunding campaign to continue its legal battle, which has already cost it £40,000.

Kristine Beckerle, a Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said a “mountain of evidence” against Saudi Arabia had not been properly considered. 

Explaining that international law does not require the intent to kill civilians for a violation to have taken place, she added: “What more does the UK Government need to start exerting leverage over the Saudi-led coalition?” 

“The UK goes on and on about how it’s concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen but it seems unwilling to pressure the Saudi-led coalition to make it better.

“It’s clear that governments use arms sales as a means of leveraging political support.”

The UK has pointed to Saudi Arabia’s Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), which investigates allegations of civilian casualties in bombings, but HRW and other groups say its findings are not robust or credible.

“It feels like people are looking for excuses for arms sales to continue when there is clear evidence that there is a real risk,” Ms Beckerle added.

People stand in front of houses destroyed by Saudi-led air strikes in the Yemeni city of Saada (Reuters)

Britain is also carrying out military training for Saudi forces, including a programme helping the Royal Saudi Air Force to “improve their targeting processes”.

But the initiatives appear to have had little effect, with the UN reporting more atrocities on Tuesday.

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said it was deeply concerned about attacks killing dozens of civilians, including children, over the past week.

“International humanitarian law prohibits attacks against civilians and civilian objects, indiscriminate attacks, and it obliges all parties to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects,” he said, listing Saudi-led air strikes that destroyed a market, family home and public square alongside Houthi atrocities.

The conflict started in March 2015 after an opposition offensive drove the government out of the capital Sana’a, sparking an intervention by Saudi Arabia and its allies to support the internationally recognised government.

Critics have accused Riyadh, along with Western allies, of hypocrisy in supporting rebels the Syrian conflict and the “legitimate government” in the Yemen.

Saudi Arabia insists its intervention at the request of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi is a justified operation against his rival’s supporters and Houthi rebels.

The head of the country’s foreign aid agency previously told The Independent Saudi Arabia was the “number one donor for aid and development in Yemen” and that there was “no intention” to bombard civilians. 

A child victim of cholera in Yemen (Reuters)

But Mr Barns said the “clear pattern of attacks” causing civilian casualties should have caused the UK to stop arms sales to the authoritarian state long ago. 

“It’s a relationship that gives military and political support to one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world,” he added.

“Far from defending the world from terrorism, the bombing of Yemen is also creating ungoverned spaces where al-Qaeda and similar groups are thriving.”

The British Government has emphasised that it is not a member of the Saudi-led coalition or party to the conflict, but reinstated its support for its intervention to “deter aggression by the Houthis and allow for the return of the legitimate Yemeni Government”.

A Department for International Trade spokesperson said: “The UK government takes its export control responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world.

“We rigorously examine every application on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. We will not grant a licence if to do so would be inconsistent with these Criteria.

“The Government publishes regular statistics on the value of export licences, but these are not necessarily a measure of actual exports shipped as exporters must re-apply where a licence is unused. This results in double counting.” 

But Amnesty International UK said a total halt to British arms exports to Saudi Arabia was “long overdue”.

Polly Truscott, its foreign affairs analyst, said: “When the High Court made its very disappointing ruling in the summer, we said there was a clear human rights need for the UK and other governments to stop selling arms to the Saudi coalition unless they were willing to risk becoming a party to terrible crimes in Yemen. 

“These figures are a further reminder of how the UK Government is apparently more interested in the financial bottom line for the arms industry, than in the need to protect civilians.”

Independent

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Middle East

15 Civilians Killed, Injured in Turkish Strikes on Afrin: Official

- e7523a3c68ddf4be6a508bd1ab873f3e L - 15 Civilians Killed, Injured in Turkish Strikes on Afrin: Official


ERBIL — At least two civilians were killed and 13 others were wounded on Sunday as a result of the Turkish military assault on Afrin, northwest of Syria, a local official said.

Osama Sheikh Issa, co-chair of Afrin local administration told Kurdistan24 that what Turkey is trying to achieve is having revenge on the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) fighter’s victory against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

“All of the casualties of the Turkish attacks were civil people who had nothing to do with the war” he pointed out.

Issa also asserted that the residents of Afrin are confidently staying in their city, but the displaced Syrian people who had found refuge in Afrin are in danger because of the Turkish assault on the city.

He further ensured that “none of the YPG and YPJ units have been targeted by the Turkish strikes, in deed all the attacks have been aimed at the homes of civilians in Afrin”.

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Middle East

Iran Calls on Turkey to Halt Afrin Operation

- 6cce60afe0e9652295227731138f696c L - Iran Calls on Turkey to Halt Afrin Operation


ERBIL — The Islamic Republic of Iran has called on Turkey to halt the Afrin operation and respect Syria’s territorial integrity, said a spokesperson for Iranian Foreign Ministry.

According to Mehr News Agency, Bahram Ghasemi said that Iran is closely and concernedly following the current developments in the city of Afrin.

“Iran hopes that the operation will immediately come to an end to stop the deepening of the crisis in the border areas of Turkey and Syria” he added. 

“The continuation of the crisis in Afrin may further strengthen the takfirist-terrorist groups in the northern Syrian regions, and flare up the fires of war ” warned the Iranian foreign ministry.

Qasemi also drew attention to the Astana peace talks and stated that all countries, especially Turkey, are expected to remain committed to the political solution, especially Astana peace process, for the Syrian crisis and continue observing their commitments and playing their constructive role in the resolution of the crisis.

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Middle East

[Watch]: YPG Destroys Turkish Tank near Afrin

- a515aef23f394e0974fa089da5993b99 L - [Watch]: YPG Destroys Turkish Tank near Afrin


ERBIL — The US-backed Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) released a footage on Sunday which shows them destroying a Turkish tank near the border city of Afrin.

The YPG fighters appear in the video destroying a Turkish tank with an anti-tank missile.

Turkey on Saturday launched a new air and ground operation on Afrin, a Kurdish city in the northwest of Syria, dubbed as the “Olive Branch Operation”.

The assault has so far left dozens killed and injured, including civilians and fighters from the both sides.

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