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US House Democrats slam $650m weapons sale to Saudi Arabia

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar says selling arms to Riyadh 'while they continue to slaughter Yemenis is unacceptable'
Saudi Arabia and its regional allies, namely the United Arab Emirates, intervened in Yemen in March 2015.
Saudi Arabia and its regional allies, namely the United Arab Emirates, intervened in Yemen in March 2015 (AFP)
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Washington

A group of prominent House Democrats on Wednesday criticised the Biden administration's decision to move forward with a $650m arms sale to Saudi Arabia, noting that the war in Yemen had brought about "a devastating humanitarian disaster".

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"The announced transfer of up to $650 million in advanced munitions to the Saudi Air Force is intended to serve defensive purposes and protect against further Houthi airborne attacks," the group of US lawmakers said in a joint statement.

"But the only way to truly protect people in the region is to bring the war in Yemen to an end. The conflict has now claimed thousands of lives and remains a devastating humanitarian disaster."

The seven members of Congress, which included Tom Malinowski, Jim McGovern and Adam Schiff, said that while US President Joe Biden announced an end to offensive support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, the US "continues to provide logistical support and spare parts" that aid the Saudi Air Force's operations in Yemen.

"That needs to stop. We urge the administration to review the efficacy of its offensive weapons freeze and consider additional steps to bring about a cessation of airstrikes against belligerents in Yemen’s civil war."

The call was echoed by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who said "selling weapons to Saudi Arabia while they continue to slaughter Yemenis is unacceptable".

"If we truly believe in putting human rights at the center of our foreign policy we would not be arming human rights abusers," the congresswoman tweeted on Wednesday.

Omar said that she was working on legislation that would prevent the sale from moving forward.

Biden committed to 'territorial defence of Saudi Arabia'

Saudi Arabia and its regional allies, namely the United Arab Emirates, intervened in Yemen's war in March 2015, launching a wide-ranging bombing campaign against the Houthi forces who seized large parts of the country including the capital, Sanaa.

The coalition also introduced an air and naval blockade that it says prevents the Houthis from smuggling weapons into the country.

The country is frequently described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 230,000 people killed, an estimated four million displaced, and around 80 percent of Yemenis dependent on aid for survival.

Last week, the Biden administration sent a formal notification to Congress that it was moving forward with the sale, which if approved, would deliver 280 AIM-120C air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia.

A State Department spokesperson previously told MEE that it was meant to "replenish Saudi Arabia's existing inventory of air-to-air missiles" and was in line with Biden's "commitment to support the territorial defense of Saudi Arabia".

If approved by Congress, it would be the first major foreign military sale to Riyadh since Biden took office.

However, US lawmakers have been critical of weapons sales to Riyadh over the past several years, passing multiple bills to block weapons sales to the kingdom and to end all US support for the war in Yemen.

In September, the US House of Representatives passed an amendment to the annual defence spending bill that would prohibit any US military support for the war in Yemen.