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Saudi Arabia is defending itself in Yemen, says UK defence chief

Michael Fallon said Saudi Arabia's bombing campaign in Yemen was justified as it was fending off Houthi rebels from its southern border
Fallon defended Britain's relationship with Saudi Arabia by saying the Gulf Kingdom was an "important trade ally"

Britain's defence secretary said that Saudi Arabia was "simply defending itself" by bombing Yemen in a military campaign that has killed thousands of civilians and brought millions more to the brink of famine. 

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, Michael Fallon stood by current Conservative government policy on Saudi Arabia and said that the Gulf kingdom was fending off Houthi rebels from its southern border. 

”Saudi Arabia is being attacked by Houthi rebels across its southern border with Yemen. It's had its towns and villages shelled by the Houthis.

Saudi Arabia is fully entitled to defend itself and it's fully entitled to call on its friend in so doing

- Michael Fallon, defence secretary

"Saudi Arabia is fully entitled to defend itself and it's fully entitled to call on its friend in so doing," said Fallon, as he justified arms exports to the Gulf kingdom. 

Asked whether the Conservatives would consider an arms embargo against the Gulf Kingdom, Fallon said that Saudi Arabia was an "important trading partner".

"We share intelligence with Saudi Arabia about terrorism. We gain from that relationship. Every arms export application is very carefully looked at and judged by our criteria - some of the toughest in the world."

Fallon's stance stands in stark contrast to his counterparts in the Labour Party, who have pledged to ban arms exports to Saudi Arabia, according to a leaked copy of its manifesto. 

A recent poll by Opinium conducted in February revealed that 62 percent of UK adults oppose arms exports to Saudi Arabia, with only 11 percent of participants supporting them. 

Andrew Smith from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) told Middle East Eye that politicians should commit to ending arms sales if it wishes to "do what is in the best interests of the Saudi Arabia". 

"The UK public is rightly opposed to the UK’s unbending and uncritical political and military support for the Saudi regime. It has one of the most brutal and repressive human rights records in the world. UK arms have been central to its terrible bombardment of Yemen,” said Smith

British-made cluster bombs

In December, Fallon confirmed that UK-made cluster bombs, manufactured before the UN's convention on cluster munitions was adopted in 2008, was used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. 

Most developed countries, including the UK but with the key exception of the US, have banned cluster bombs on the basis that they present a disproportionate threat to civilians.

According to Human Rights Watch, cluster bombs “pose a threat post-conflict by leaving remnants, including submunitions that fail to explode upon impact becoming de facto landmines”.

Britain is the second biggest arms exporter in the world, selling the majority of its weapons to Saudi Arabia.

In the first year of Saudi Arabia's bombing campaign in Yemen, Britain approved $4.2 billion worth of arms export licenses to the Gulf kingdom.

The legality of UK arms sales is currently the subject of a judicial review, following an application by CAAT.

The claim calls on the government to suspend all extant licences and stop issuing further arms export licences to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen while it holds a full review to determine if the exports are compatible with UK and EU legislation. 

The verdict is still pending.