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Yemen protest

Yemen protest. Photo: Maddalena Dunscombe

Why is Britain enabling Saudi Arabia to escalate its war on Yemen nearly seven years after it began?

On Saturday many will gather outside Downing Street, demanding an end to British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, amid the regime’s continued assault on Yemen.

For nearly seven years, Yemen has been devastated by the ruthless Saudi-led coalition’s assault on the country. All the while, it has been facilitated by support from successive US and UK governments.

Escalation

Any hopes that 2022 would see a halt to the Saudi brutality in Yemen were quickly dashed. In January, the Saudis launched an airstrike on a north Yemeni detention centre that killed at least 82 people and injuring hundreds more, sparking condemnation from the UN.

That same month, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, told the UN Security Council that military escalation was accelerating and that the opening weeks of the 2022 were “among the worst we have seen in Yemen for years.”

This bloodshed has also seen Yemen engulfed by a humanitarian disaster, only paralleled by that currently taking place in Afghanistan. Unicef have reported that over half of Yemenis are suffering acute hunger. Meanwhile, the UN has estimated that there were 377,000 war related deaths by the end of 2021. Roughly 60% of the death toll can be attributed to the humanitarian crisis and the majority of deaths are among children below the age of five, with one dying every nine minutes.

Complicity

The US and UK governments are not oblivious to this suffering. Indeed, they have given over £3 billion in humanitarian aid, between them, since 2015. Yet, their real priorities are revealed by the fact this figure is dwarfed by that made in selling arms to the Saudi regime during the same period – over £70 billion.

According to research from Campaign Against Arms Trade, British weapons company BAE systems has sold £17.6bn worth of arms and military services to the Saudi dictatorship since 2015, while the company has 6,700 members of staff posted in Saudi Arabia.

If supplying arms was bad enough, the UK is training members of the Saudi-led coalition’s armed forces. Meanwhile, there are also UK armed forces personnel based in Riyadh’s command centre, who have been supplying logistical and intelligence support throughout the war.

Opposition

Predictably, Boris Johnson has faced no calls from Keir Starmer to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia. With Jeremy Corbyn at the helm, Labour was pressing the government for immediate action but Starmer has long abandoned any such campaign.

That is why it is essential the anti-war movement is ready to take to the streets to demand that the UK government immediately stops arms sales to the Saudi regime and ends its complicity in the devastation facing Yemen.

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