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US Senate blocks resolution to halt weapons sale to Bahrain

Republican Senator Rand Paul had urged colleagues to send message to Saudi Arabia and its allies over war in Yemen
Bahraini Air Force F-16s during Bahrain International Airshow on 14 November (AFP)

The United States Senate rejected a measure to block US arms sales to Bahrain over the island kingdom’s involvement in the war in Yemen.

The US senators on Thursday voted down the resolution, which was introduced by Republican Senator Rand Paul.

The bill aimed to stop the sale of $300m in US-made weapons to Bahrain, which includes guided missiles and rocket launch systems, as well as the training of military personnel, and technical and logistical support.

Paul, a longtime critic of the war in Yemen, has said that the goal of the resolution was to distance Washington from the conflict in Yemen.

He tied Bahrain to the war in a brief speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, saying the kingdom is an "intimate part" of a Saudi-led coalition that launched a military campaign in 2015 to root out Yemen's Houthi rebels.

“Quit selling them arms one time, and they’ll sit up, and they’ll say let’s have a talk,” Paul said.

'Chance to stand up'

Paul also criticised Bahrain’s human rights record and mistreatment of its "majority-Shia population".

Bahrain, which is home to a large US naval base, has faced unrest since the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests inspired by Arab Spring uprisings in 2011. The kingdom has since silenced critics by jailing dissidents and dissolving political parties that oppose the government.

Paul went on to rebuke Saudi Arabia and its allies, urging action against them because, he said, they do not respond to “meek words”.

The senator said the Saudi-led coalition has dropped 200 bombs on the coastal Yemeni city of Hodeidah since US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Riyadh to stop bombing populated areas in the war-torn country.

"This vote is about more than yet another arms sale. The Senate has a chance to stand up for innocent life, speak out against a humanitarian tragedy that is getting worse by the day, and demonstrate it will not support further destruction in Yemen," Paul said in a statement earlier on Thursday.

Washington provides logistical support, including intelligence sharing, to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

Last weekend, the US announced it had stopped refuelling warplanes deployed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, a decision that was taken at the behest of Saudi Arabia, which said it could handle its own refuelling needed and no longer required US help.

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Saudi Arabia and its allies launched a bombing campaign against the impoverished country's Houthi rebels in 2015 as part of an effort to push them out of the capital, Sanaa, and restore the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The war has killed thousands of people, caused a cholera outbreak and brought Yemen to the verge of famine, but Riyadh and its allies have been unable to capture Sanaa.

Thursday’s vote also comes a day after Republicans in the US House of Representatives blocked an effort by Democrats to halt US assistance to the Saudi-led war.

"People are dying every minute in Yemen. Our silence and our inaction mean that we are complicit," Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern said on Wednesday.

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