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Oxfam calls on Britain to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi murder report

This file picture shows a BAE Typhoon jet at the Farnborough International Airshow in 2018. (Photo by AFP)

International charity organization Oxfam has called on Britain to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia after a US intelligence report laid blame for the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the feet of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS).

“At a time that the US seems to be evaluating its relationship with Saudi Arabia, we would urge the UK government to do the same and stop its arms sales to Saudi Arabia which are fueling the conflict in Yemen,” Mushin Siddiquey, Oxfam's Yemen director, said. 

"Over 12,000 civilian lives have been lost since the start of the war, with atrocities on all sides. We need an immediate ceasefire to ensure no more innocent Yemenis are killed and that humanitarian agencies have safe access to deliver the support they need.”

Tobias Ellwood, chair of the UK defense select committee, echoed Siddiquey's calls, and said Britain should follow Washington's decision after the publication of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) report, which concluded that the Saudi crown prince had approved the operation that resulted in the death of Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate in October 2018.

“The CIA report is unambiguous in its conclusions, and this will be inevitably be an embarrassment and shame to the wider country,” Ellwood told British daily the Guardian

He also called on Saudi Arabia's royal family to respond “to the loss in international confidence and trust of the crown prince" and the "wider cultural atmosphere that allowed such decision making to go unchallenged.”

Last week, Oxfam rebuked the British government for allowing the export of air-to-air refueling equipment to Saudi Arabia, warning that the gear could prolong the Yemen war as it would be used to help the Saudi air force conduct indiscriminate bombing attacks in the Arab country.

The charity organization said the technology was licensed to the Riyadh regime last summer when arms restrictions were lifted, and London approved an additional £1.4 billion ($1.96 billion) sale of other weapons, the Guardian reported on February 22.

Britain is the second-largest arms seller to Saudi Arabia after the United States, and has reportedly licensed the sale of £4.7 billion ($6.5 billion) of weapons to the Riyadh-regime since the start of the Yemen war in March 2015. 

Biden to make Saudi announcement on Monday

President Joe Biden on Saturday said his administration would make an announcement on Saudi Arabia on Monday, following the report by US intelligence agencies assigning accountability to MbS for the killing of Khashoggi.

“There will be an announcement on Monday as to what we are going to be doing with Saudi Arabia generally,” Biden said when asked about punishing Saudi Arabia’s 35-year-old crown prince and de facto ruler.

But a White House official suggested no new significant steps were expected.

“The administration took a wide range of new actions on Friday. The president is referring to the fact that on Monday, the State Department will provide more details and elaborate on those announcements, not new announcements,” the official said.

The publication of the US intelligence report that concluded MbS had approved the operation to kill Khashoggi has heaped pressure on Biden to make good on his campaign promises to realign Saudi ties after critics accused his predecessor, former president Donald Trump, of giving Saudi Arabia a pass on gross human rights violations.

However, the Biden administration ruled out imposing sanctions on the crown prince - a move that rights groups say would be fundamental for ensuring justice for the slain journalist.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed on Friday that Washington will not take action against the crown prince himself.

The US State and Treasury departments have announced sanctions against dozens of Saudi individuals over their involvement in the Khashoggi murder and other rights violations without identifying them.

Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch, called a failure to impose sanctions on MbS over the killing "unconscionable”.

"The fact that the US has sanctioned so many of MbS’s associates but not him sends a terrible message that the higher up in a government you are, the more likely it is you can commit crimes with impunity,” Prasow told the Middle East Eye.   

Bahrain, UAE, Arab League back Saudi Arabia 

Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Arab League have stood behind Saudi Arabia's position.

Manama said on Friday that it rejected any attempts to “undermine” Saudi Arabia's sovereignty, according to Bahrain's state-run news agency, BNA.  

“Bahrain emphasizes the importance of the fundamental role of Saudi Arabia under the leadership of King Salman and his crown prince, its policy of moderation regionally, in the Arab region, and internationally, its efforts to enhance regional security and stability, and promote global economic development,” BNA said. 

The UAE's Foreign Ministry also “expressed its confidence in and support for the Saudi judiciary rulings, which affirm the kingdom's commitment to implementing the law in a transparent and impartial manner, and holding all those involved in this case accountable.”

Moreover, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit expressed support on Saturday for Saudi Arabia's position.

Aboul Gheit "has expressed his support for the Saudi Foreign Ministry's statement refuting the conclusions of the US intelligence report, stressing that the latter is not a judicial or international body and that the human rights issues should not be politicized,” the Arab League Secretariat said on its website.

Saudi Arabia on Friday said it “completely” rejected the declassified US report and described it as a “false and unacceptable assessment.”

"The kingdom rejects any measure that infringes upon its leadership, sovereignty, and the independence of the judicial system," Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry said. 

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