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Iran-backed rebels to blame for Yemen humanitarian crisis, UK-arms sales committee chief claims

MP likens missile strikes on Saudi targets to Nazi attacks on Britain

Harriet Agerholm
Saturday 03 November 2018 17:07 GMT
Labour MP Graham Jones likens Saudi missile attacks on targets to Nazi attacks on Britain

The chairman of a committee scrutinising British arms sales has blamed Iranian-backed rebels for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, amid an intensifying row over Saudi Arabia’s role in the civil war.

MPs from across the political spectrum have criticised the government for continuing to sell weapons to the Saudi-led coalition, which is fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Much of the criticism has revolved around Saudi-backed bombing of a bus carrying school children and an attack targeting a wedding.

But Labour’s Graham Jones said responsibility for the spiralling emergency in Yemen lay with Tehran-backed Ansar Allah rebels, likening their missile attacks on Saudi targets to Nazi V2 attacks on Britain during the Second World War.

Mr Jones, who chairs the Commons Committees on Arms Exports Controls (CAEC), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that, aside from environmental issues, the well-armed Houthi group “represent the greatest threat on the planet now”.

“You talk about the humanitarian disaster of course. This is caused by Ansar Allah,” he said.

“If you read the ambassadors at the UN and the unanimous decision to back the Hadi government, it’s not hard to come to the conclusion that the way we find peace and security is to stop the Ansar Allah advance into other tribal areas and the oppression that goes with it.”

Malnutrition centre in Mukalla, Yemen provides care for children suffering hunger and famine

Mr Jones, who represents Hyndburn in Lancashire, told Today the Saudis were themselves under attack by rebels with “hi-tech missiles”.

“The Iran-backed rebels, with hi-tech missiles. Ansar Allah, in my view, represent the greatest threat on the planet now in the way that they are trying to take over the Yemeni government … apart from environmental issues,” he said.

“We had, what, 1,300 V2 rockets fired into the UK during World War Two? The Saudis have now faced over 200 long-range ballistic missiles, Iranian-made missiles. That is a very serious issue.”

He called Riyadh’s bombing of the school bus and wedding a “disgrace” and said the bombing campaign was “aggressive and it needs to ease off”.

But he went on: “It just happens to be that every other nation has decided not to send a military element to Yemen and the Arab coalition have.

“It doesn’t mean we support the Arab coalition but what we do support though is international law and that was a unanimous decision at the UN and that’s the position that we hold.”

In recent days Saudi has faced increased political pressure, including from the United States, following the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its consulate in Turkey.

Many countries, including allies like Britain, have urged it to find a quick solution to the conflict, but apart from Germany have yet to halt arms sales.

Some of the most strident criticism has come from Labour, with frontbench figures including party leader Jeremy Corbyn vowing to end Saudi arms sales if it is elected.

But Conservative MP and former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell also criticised arms sales to the Saudi kingdom on Wednesday, saying Britain was “complicit” in creating the famine in Yemen.

CAEC is an overarching committee which brings together four select committees – defence, foreign affairs, international trade and international development – that have an interest in the arms trade as part of their scrutiny role.

It emerged on Saturday that aid projects in Yemen funded by Oxfam have been hit in Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.

Oxfam’s head of advocacy, Toni Pearce, called British policy towards Yemen “irresponsible and incoherent”.

Additional reporting by PA

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