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Italy lifts ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE

Italian authorities previously blocked arms exports to the Gulf states over fears they would be used to kill civilians in Yemen
An Italian foreign ministry source said the arms licences revoked in January, including the sale of some 12,700 missiles, would remain blocked (Screengrab)

Italy lifted a ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after previous concerns that weapons sold to the Gulf states could be used to kill civilians in Yemen. 

Government sources in Italy told Reuters on Tuesday that the decision to loosen restrictions was aimed at easing diplomatic tensions with the two Gulf countries. 

Earlier this year, Rome halted the sale of thousands of missiles to Saudi Arabia and the UAE as part of its commitment to restoring peace in Yemen and protecting human rights. 

But a new foreign ministry directive shown to Reuters said restrictions introduced in 2019 that blocked any sales of arms and equipment that might be used in Yemen will now be lifted. 

“All existing authorisations are to be considered valid even without this requirement,” said the brief directive that was signed on Monday.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are part of a coalition formed to support the UN-backed government and fight the  Houthi rebel group that controls the capital Sanaa in Yemen. 

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Despite formally withdrawing parts of its military contingent from Yemen, the UAE maintains a presence through militias it directly funds and trains in the south of the country. 

Export requirements to the Gulf states were tightened two years ago after a public outcry over the Yemen war, which the United Nations has described as the world's largest humanitarian crisis. 

A source at the Italian foreign ministry said the arms licences revoked in January, including the sale of some 12,700 missiles, would remain blocked.

Following the January decision to curb arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Abu Dhabi asked Italy to withdraw aircraft and personnel from the Emirates' al-Minhad air base by 2 July. 

Italian media also reported that local companies were worried they would lose civilian contracts in the UAE because of the new restrictions. 

Earlier this year, US President Joe Biden issued a temporary pause to billions of dollars worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE as his administration reviewed the exports. 

The Wall Street Journal said the freeze on arms sales would include the sale of precision-guided weapons to Saudi Arabia and F-35 fighters to the UAE.