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UK still supplying fighter jets to Saudi Arabia despite ban

UK Foreign Secretary confirms German ban on arms exports will not include spares for British planes
Yemenis sift the rubble of a heavily damaged building following reported Saudi-led coalition air strikes in the Yemeni capital Sanaa (AFP)

The UK negotiated an exemption from a German ban on supplying equipment to Saudi Arabia for use in the war in Yemen, the foreign secretary confirmed on Thursday.

In March, Germany extended for six months a ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia due to concerns about human rights abuses, but UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that joint production on British planes would continue.

Tornado fighter bombers and Eurofighter Typhoons are both used by the Saudi-led coalition in air strikes in Yemen, which are aimed at combatting the Houthi rebel group. The aircraft are produced by consortiums of European companies, while Germany supplies spares for them.

“There will be a partial exemption for joint European programmes and their connected licences until the end of December 2019," said Hunt, in letter to the parliamentary Committee on Arms Export Controls (CEAC), according to the Guardian.

"I am pleased the German government has listened to our request to ensure the spares for the existing Typhoon and Tornado aircraft in Saudi Arabia may now continue to be licensed.”

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The war in Yemen is the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with the World Health Organisation estimating that nearly 10,000 people have been killed in the country since March 2015, but rights groups say the toll could be far higher.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a Labour MP and CEAC member, told the Guardian the revelations were deeply concerning.

“Not only is the government breaking UK export control law to keep Saudi jets in the sky bombing civilians in Yemen, it is lobbying other countries to do so," he said.

The UK revelations come as it was reported that the administration of US President Donald Trump was preparing to bypass a Congress ban to allow the sale of $7 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and several State Department appointees are pushing the administration to invoke an emergency provision that would allow Trump to prevent Congress from halting the sales, which are currently on hold, reported the New York Times on Thursday.

Reports of the plan have angered politicians on both sides of the aisle, who are frustrated by the government's support for the Saudi-led coalition in the ongoing Yemen war.

Congress dealt Trump a harsh rebuke in March with a historic bipartisan resolution that would have curtailed the president's war-making powers and ended American support for the Saudi-led coalition.

Trump vetoed the measure in April, the second such move of his presidency.