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Orthodox leaders urge probe into Israeli arms for Myanmar

Myanmar’s visiting military Chief of Staff Min Aung Hlaing (R) meets Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Sept. 2015.

A group of prominent Orthodox leaders has asked the Knesset to investigate reports that Myanmar is using weapons sold by Israel to commit atrocities against Rohingya Muslims. 

A dozen Orthodox rabbis submitted a letter to lawmaker Avi Dichter who chairs a Knesset committee tasked with overseeing Israel’s arms exports, Ha’aretz reported on Monday. 

“Has Israel sold arms to Myanmar in recent years, as alleged in several foreign reports, and continued to do so even after the publication of several reports on severe human rights violations in the country?” they asked. “If so, why was there no veto issued on the exports?” read the letter.

The letter reportedly contained reports and testimonies showing that Israel had sold weapons to Myanmar.

“And is Israel still selling arms to Myanmar?” it continued, and further asked if Tel Aviv had actually stopped the weapons’ sales, why it had not publicized it.

The United Nations has accused the Myanmar government of conducting systematic “ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya Muslims.

On Sunday, a UN special envoy said Myanmar soldiers "systematically targeted" Rohingya women for gang-rape during violence against the minority Muslim community which triggered an exodus to Bangladesh.

Pramila Patten, a special representative of the UN Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict, said many of the atrocities "could be crimes against humanity." 

"I heard horrific stories of rape and gang-rape, with many of the women and girls who died as a result of the rape," Patten told reporters in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka.

Israel was one of the few parties selling weapons to South Africa during apartheid and only stopped selling weapons to Rwanda during the genocide there after the UN Security Council passed a resolution that put an arms embargo on the country.

Last month, Haaretz said Israel had not said that it would stop selling weapons to the military junta in Myanmar, despite UN data on massacres the country’s military had perpetrated against the Rohingya minority. 

The paper separately said Israel sold advanced weapons to Myanmar during an "ethnic-cleansing campaign" going against the Rohingya and that the Myanmar naval commander had visited Israel in the past year, his second in the past five years.

“There’s a remote weapon station, made by Elbit Systems, which allows the firing of a heavy machine gun or cannon of up to 30 millimeters,” it said.

Last month, 55 Israeli rabbis representing various denominations signed a petition calling on Israeli authorities to end arm sales to Myanmar but Tel Aviv has kept mum on its military dealings with the regime.

More than 350 rabbis from the United States subsequently signed a similar letter, which also called on the US government to end training Myanmar troops.

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