Yemen in Focus: Western allies strike Saudi coalition with double blow

Yemen in Focus: Western allies strike Saudi coalition with double blow
This week we look at a double blow to the Saudi-led coalition battling rebels in Yemen, a new death toll for the conflict and an Arab move against the Houthis.
6 min read
21 June, 2019
The Saudi-led coalition suffered a double blow this week [Getty]
Saudi Arabia received a double blow from its main western allies this week, with both the UK and the US taking aim at the kingdom’s weapons supplies.

On Thursday, the British government said it would suspend issuing new Saudi licenses for the sale of arms that might be used in the Gulf kingdom's deadly bombing campaign in Yemen.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox announced the decision in parliament after a British court ordered the government to "reconsider" sales due to their humanitarian impact, deeming the arms sales illegal.

Campaigners who have for years attempted to shine a light on the atrocities committed by the kingdom, with help from British arms, welcomed the Court of Appeal decision to overturn a 2017 High Court judgment that allowed the UK government to continue licensing the export of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.

In April, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) went before the UK Court of Appeal to overturn a 2017 High Court judgment which allows the government to continue with arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

In their judgement, the court on Thursday accepted CAAT's appeal, branding it "irrational and therefore unlawful" to have previously approved the exporting license to Saudi Arabia without prior assessment on the humanitarian risk.

"The question whether there was an historic pattern of breaches of international humanitarian law ... was a question which required to be faced," the three judges - Rt Hon Sir Terence Etherton; Lord Justice Irwin and Lord Justice Singh - said as they concluded their verdict.

CAAT welcomed their victory, but said they should not have had to go to court to begin with.

"We welcome this verdict, but it should never have taken a court case brought by campaigners to force the Government to follow its own rules," Andrew Smith of CAAT said.

Read more: Arab League chief tells Iranians to 'be careful'

"The Saudi Arabian regime is one of the most brutal and repressive in the world, yet, for decades, it has been the largest buyer of UK-made arms. No matter what atrocities it has inflicted, the Saudi regime has been able to count on the uncritical political and military support of the UK.

"The bombing has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. UK arms companies have profited every step of the way. The arms sales must stop immediately,” Smith said.

And it seems like Smith's call was heard across the pond in America, where US lawmakers voted to block arms sales to Riyadh hours after te UK made its move.

The Senate voted to prevent $8.1 billion in US arms in a symbolic bipartisan rebuke to President Donald Trump and his close ties with the kingdom.

A handful of Republicans joined Democrats in voting against 22 separate sales of aircraft support maintenance, precision-guided munitions and other weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan at a moment of heightened tensions in the Middle East.

The votes were only assured this week when Republican leadership agreed to hold the sensitive roll calls on the arms sales, which critics say will aggravate the devastating war in Yemen.

Trump's administration took the extraordinary step of bypassing Congress to approve the sales in May, declaring Iran to be a "fundamental threat" to regional stability.

Trump - of course - promised to veto measures taken by the Senate amid rising tensions in the Middle East.

The White House said stopping the sales "would send a message that the US is abandoning its partners and allies at the very moment when threats to them are increasing".
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said the administration was responding to an emergency caused by Saudi Arabia's historic rival Iran, which backs the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

But critics in the US and the UK have expressed concern about the devastating toll that the four-year Saudi bombing campaign in neighbouring Yemen has taken on civilians.

Increased death toll

On that note, a previous 10,000 death toll figure used widely by the media over the course of the four-year war was blown out of the water this week after a report by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLED, revealed a new estimate.

Yemen's civil war has killed at least 91,600 people so far, the database tracking violence said on Wednesday, presenting a new estimate after completing reporting for the first months of fighting in 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition intervened.

In the relentless campaign, Saudi-led airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties and killed thousands of Yemeni civilians. The Houthis have used drones and missiles to attack Saudi Arabia and have targeted vessels in the Red Sea.

Civilians have borne the brunt of the conflict, which has created what the United Nations says is the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

ACLED said 11,900 people were killed this year, compared to 30,800 in 2018.

The group said the Saudi-led coalition and its allies were responsible for more than 8,000 of about 11,700 deaths resulting from the direct targeting of civilians, while the Houthis and their allies were responsible for the rest.

The group said it recorded over 18,400 killed in the southwestern province of Taiz since 2015, placing Taiz as the most violent province in Yemen, largely due to a four-year siege by the Houthis, the group said.

Hodeida and Jawf followed Taiz as the next most violent provinces in Yemen, with almost 10,000 in total combat fatalities, reported in each region since 2015, according the group.

Tit-for-tat strikes

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes struck Houthi targets around the port city of Hodeida on Friday, in response to an earlier rebel missile attack on a utility plant in southern Saudi Arabia.

The military alliance battling the rebels in neighbouring Yemen said it targeted "booby-trapped boats" used by the Houthis to launch attacks that harm international shipping, according to a statement carried by Saudi state media.

The coalition strikes came shortly after the Houthis struck a Saudi desalination station near al-Shuqaiq city using a cruise missile, Saudi-led coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki was quoted as saying by the official Saudi Press Agency

He warned that the coalition will take "firm measures, urgent and timely, to deter this terrorist militia", Maliki said.

"The terrorist elements responsible for planning and executing these acts... will be held responsible."

The Saudi confirmation came after the Houthis said they hit a power station in the southern province of Jizan, through the movement’s Al Masirah TV station.

Brigadier Yahya Sari, spokesman for the Houthis, said the missile strike off Najran, "by the grace of God, struck large gatherings of the Saudi enemy".

Dozens of dead and wounded mercenaries were seen being transported by cars after the strike, he added, noting the attack, that was filmed, would be published.

The US said it was aware of a missile strike in Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis have intensified attacks in the past few weeks against the kingdom, which launched military operations in Yemen in 2015 as part of a coalition to push back against the rebels.

The Houthi attacks prompted Arab parliamentarians gathered in Cairo on Wednesday to urge the United Nations to list Yemen's rebels as a "terrorist organisation”.

The parliament of the Arab League decided on Wednesday to "ask the UN and the Security Council to take a firm and immediate position by classifying the putschist Houthi militia a terrorist organisation".

The body made up of representatives from the parliaments in the pan-Arab bloc accused the Houthis of "regularly targeting civilian and vital infrastructure in Saudi Arabia with ballistic missiles or drones".

Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino 

Yemen In Focus is a new, regular feature from The New Arab.

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