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Spain makes U-turn, will now sell 400 missiles to Saudi Arabia

FM Josep Borrell says deal will go ahead a week after it was stopped amid concerns over civilian deaths in Yemen.

The Spanish government reversed its decision to scrap a deal to sell 400 laser-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia, despite earlier reservations the hi-tech weapons may kill civilians in Yemen's devastating war.

Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said on Thursday the deal will now go ahead, a week after it was halted.

"The decision is that these bombs will be delivered to honour a contract that comes from 2015 and was made by the previous government," Borrell told Spanish radio station Onda Cero, adding the sale had been reviewed three times.

"We found no reason not to carry it out."

Spain and other Western countries, such as the United States and UK, have been heavily criticised for selling arms to Saudi Arabia because of its leading involvement in the disastrous war in Yemen. 

At least 10,000 people - mostly civilians - have been killed since the Saudi and Emirati-led military coalition began bombing Houthi rebels in Yemen in 2015 - a death toll that hasn't been updated in years and is likely far higher.

"It is truly a shameful decision, instead of sending a red light to end mass slaughter in Yemen, Spain is changing that to green light to continue indiscriminate killing of civilians and targeting of civilians areas like hospitals and school and most recently a school bus full of Yemeni children," Kate Gould, the Legislative Representative for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), said.

"Every bit of pressure helps as it sends a strong signal to Saudi Arabia that support for this war is not unconditional, and unfortunately Spain has sent an opposite message with this reversal."

The alliance has faced increasing calls for restraint in its bombing campaign, particularly following an attack that hit a school bus and killed 51 civilians, including 40 children, last month.

When asked about the civilian carnage, Borrell replied the Spanish bombs were of "extraordinary accuracy".

"This kind of weapon does not produce the same sort of bombing as less sophisticated weapons, launched a bit randomly, that create the sort of tragedy that we have all condemned," Borrell said.

Western arms sales

Last week's announcement that the deal was done received praise from human rights groups opposed to the international arms trade, including Amnesty International and the UK-based Campaign Against Arms Trade.

Spain is the fourth-largest provider of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, according to Amnesty.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, an independent global security database, said the US, Britain, and France are Saudi Arabia's main arms suppliers.

Last year, Saudi Arabia reportedly agreed to buy $7bn worth of precision-guided munitions from the US.

"We're seeing is increased pressure around the world including on countries like Spain, Germany, Norway and Britain to halt all sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for their operations in Yemen," Middle East analyst Sigurd Neubauer said.

Neubauer also said there has been a concerted effort led by the US to push forward with the peace process in Yemen.

"The UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths has travelled around the Gulf to set the stage for the next push for UN peace talks," Neubauer said.

Those talks so far have not yielded any results, mainly because the Houthis did not attend the talks in Geneva, Switzerland.

"We have also seen that the Houthis have said that they have been denied access to travelling to Geneva for the peace talks, and the Saudis have accused the Houthis on not showing up, so there's a gap in the narrative," he concluded.

The war in Yemen has become the world's worst humanitarian crisis with more than 22 million people in desperate need of food, medicine, and other assistance. 

UN human rights investigators said recently all sides may have committed war crimes in the conflict.


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