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US senators call for block on arms sales to Saudi Arabia

America provides logistical support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and sold more than $1bn of weapons in 2015
Saudi air strikes continue to rain down on various parts of Yemen (AFP)

A group of bipartisan US senators have introduced a resolution to block a $1.15bn weapons sale to Saudi Arabia as pressure mounts globally for an embargo against the Saudis over its intervention in the war in Yemen.

The “resolution of disapproval” introduced by Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Chris Murphy and Al Franken comes as human rights group accuse Saudi Arabia of perpetrating war crimes during its intervention in Yemen.

“Selling $1.15bn in tanks, guns, ammunition, and more to a country with a poor human rights record embroiled in a bitter war is a recipe for disaster and an escalation of an ongoing arms race in the region,” Paul said in a statement.

“Thousands of civilians are being killed, and terrorist groups inside the country, like al Qaeda and ISIS, are getting stronger. Until the Saudis’ conduct changes, the US should put a pause on further arms sales,” Murphy said.

The same week Congress was notified about the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, a civilian factory was bombed according to Human Rights Watch killing 10 civilians. A few days later an air strike hit a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) supported hospital, killing 19 civilians.

MSF last month also pulled the plug on its operations in Yemen after a hospital supported by the French NGO was targeted by the Saudi-led coalition.  

The Saudi-led coalition expressed “deep regret” about the French NGO’s decision to completely pull out of Yemen.

The US has provided logistical, tactical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition during its intervention in Yemen.

HRW backs congressman

Human Rights Watch welcomed the bipartisan resolution and described the congressman’s intervention as a “step forward”.

In a statement on its website, Human Rights Watch said: “The resolution of disapproval is a step forward, and this initiative and others like it should be supported. Yemenis deserve more than quiet concern; they deserve an outcry.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry, during a visit to Saudi Arabia to discuss Yemen, also said that the US had been “very clear” about its concerns regarding civilian casualties, and that the Saudis were taking the concerns “seriously”.  

The Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir laso visited London earlier this week to convince British MPs to not support a similar ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

While in London, he urged MPs in a private meeting to not endorse an arms embargo being imposed on Saudi Arabia after a leaked report called for an immediate suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia in light of its war in Yemen. 

Jubeir called on Britain to continue supporting Riyadh’s military campaign in Yemen to prevent the country being used to launch terror attacks against the West.

Boris Johnson, the British foreign minister, defended arms sales to Saudi Arabia this week by saying that the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen was not in "serious breach" of international humanitarian law. 

Saudi weapons purchases account for a third of British arms sales globally. Weapons worth more than £3.3 billion have been sold to Saudi since the Yemen campaign started in March 2015.

Yemen remains on the brink as the death toll increases as the bitter civil war continues to rage after peace talks in Kuwait collapsed between the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government.  

According to the UN more than three million people have been internally displaced since the civil war began, making it one of the worst humanitarian crises in the region. 

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