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Rights groups urging a halt on British arms exports to Israel

Published:Friday | December 8, 2023 | 12:09 AM
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.


Legal and human rights groups have filed a legal challenge with Britain’s High Court calling for the United Kingdom (UK) to stop granting licences for weapons exports to Israel, activists said yesterday.

Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq and UK-based Global Legal Action Network said they took the step after Britain’s government repeatedly ignored their written requests to suspend arms sales to Israel following the deadly October 7 Hamas attack that triggered the current Israeli-Hamas war.

Ahmed Abofoul, an international lawyer at Al-Haq, claimed that Britain “has a legal and moral obligation” to not grant arms exports licences to governments that commit atrocities. There have been widespread claims of breaches of international law by Hamas and Israeli forces since the war erupted.

Rights groups have long opposed British arms exports to Israel.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade non-profit group says British industry, namely BAE Systems, provides some 15 per cent of the components in the F35 stealth combat aircraft used by Israel.

The group alleges that the jets were used in the latest bombardment of Gaza, which Israel launched in response to the October 7 attack, followed by a ground offensive in the besieged territory. The group says the components, along with other military equipment, are exported under “open general export licences” that lack transparency.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that Britain stands by Israel in its “darkest hour” as it wages war on Hamas following the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack.

Last month, Britain’s Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said UK arms exports to Israel were “relatively small,” when he was asked whether weapons sold by Britain been used in violation of international humanitarian law and why such sales have not been suspended in light of the mounting death toll in Gaza.

Shapps said his government will not grant export licences to any destination where applications do not meet its criteria.

“Our defence exports to Israel are relatively small -- just 42 million pounds ($52 million) last year. They go through a very strict criteria before anything is exported,” Shapps told lawmakers.

The Global Legal Action Network said it also filed a legal challenge yesterday against defence and security giant BAE Systems.

“Given that BAE is known to export components to Israel under these UK licences we are challenging, they are a potential interested party in the litigation,” said Siobhán Allen, one of the lawyers acting for the group in the case.

Activists have staged protests outside BAE Systems factories across the UK in recent weeks, urging the company to halt trade links with Israel.

– AP