Britain urged to ban £23m arms trade with Israel

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Indy Politics

Campaigners have demanded that Britain impose a ban on arms sales to Israel after figures showed that the Government licensed £23m worth of weaponry to be shipped to the country in the past year. They warned that British arms sales to Tel Aviv broke the Government's pledge not to stock the arsenals of countries where there is a risk of regional instability or conflict.

Figures released by the Department of Trade and Industry showed that arms sales to Israel worth £2m were approved between January and March. The quarterly arms export report brought the year's total arms sales to the country to £23m. Equipment included components for naval guns, military helicopters, submarines and electronic equipment. Components for airborne radars were also included.

Researchers said that the level of British arms sales to Israel was in line with recent years.

Paul Eavis, director of the arms control think-tank Saferworld, which analysed the figures, said: "The Government's arms policy states that it will not issue arms where there is a risk of regional conflict of instability, yet it has consistently approved arms sales to Israel. The current violence in the Middle East is alarming and the Government must now stop all arms sales to Israel."

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade also called for a halt to exports. A spokeswoman said: "This is a country we highlight, along with South Africa and Indonesia. Current events show the need for an end to the arms trade."

Downing Street yesterday described the latest violence as "one of the most serious for the Middle East for some time" and called on all sides to show restraint and return to the negotiating table.

The Foreign Office insisted that arms export controls were kept under constant review, but said there were no plans to impose an embargo on Israel.

A spokesman said there was no evidence that British-made munitions had been deployed by Israel.

He said: "We certainly do our best to scrutinise and examine these exports to decide whether the end user will use the components in internal oppression or external aggression and licences are refused."

British arms exports to Israel have long been a source of controversy. Last year, 51 Labour MPs signed a House of Commons motion calling for a ban on arms sales to Israel.

Israel, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia are among the countries described as major countries of concern in last year's annual human rights report by the Foreign Office. The report criticised Israel's failure to respect the human rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Campaigners expressed concern about arms exports to countries throughout the world after the quarterly report showed export licences had been granted for shipments to China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Exports to Indonesia worth £16m were approved between January and March, including components for combat aircraft, aircraft cannons and military helicopters.

Exports to Pakistan worth £9m were granted, including components for air-to-air missiles.

Exports to Iraq included assault rifles, and components to be used in aircraft, vehicles and guns.

Arms equipment worth £19m was exported to China, including components for military navigation equipment and naval radar, military aero-engines and "technology for the production of combat aircraft". Exports to Saudi Arabia included shotguns and sniper rifles.

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