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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: Human Rights Watch and other civil society groups have called on the UK government to stop transfers of arms to Israel, amid concerns that they might be used to commit “war crimes” against Palestinians.
It comes as Israel continues its two-month-long campaign of airstrikes and ground assaults in Gaza, during which more than 17,000 Palestinians, many of them women and children, have been killed, according to Palestinian officials.
In a detailed letter on Tuesday, the groups said that since 2015, UK authorities have authorized sales of military equipment to Israel worth at least £474 million ($595 million), including components for combat aircraft, missiles and tanks, other technology, and small arms and ammunition.
“The UK provides approximately 15 percent of the components in the F-35 stealth bomber aircraft currently being used in Gaza, including the rear fuselage and active interceptor system, ejector seats, aircraft tires, refueling probe, laser-targeting system, and the fan propulsion system,” it said.
The letter also highlights previous occasions on which UK-supplied components were used by Israel during conflicts in the territory, most notably during the 2008-09 Gaza War.
It also cited a 2014 review by former Prime Minister David Cameron of licensed exports to Israel that stated if significant hostilities resumed in Gaza, the UK would suspend existing licenses for equipment and parts used by the Israeli military, as officials would be unable to determine whether or not export criteria were being met.
The letter mentioned provisions of international and UK laws that require the government to halt arms transfers if there is considered to be a substantial risk that equipment will be used in serious violations of international humanitarian law or human rights legislation. These legal obligations are enshrined within Articles 6 and 7 of the International Arms Trade Treaty, it said, as well as the UK’s Strategic Export Licensing Criteria.
The human rights groups said that since Oct. 7, Israeli forces have carried out “unlawful” attacks on medical facilities, residential buildings, evacuation convoys, bakeries, water and electricity infrastructure, schools, and UN facilities providing shelter for displaced Palestinians. More than 52,000 homes have been destroyed, they added, and more than 1.9 million people are internally displaced, according to UN figures.
“If carried out intentionally or recklessly, attacks directed against the civilian population and civilian objects are war crimes,” the letter said.
“The Israeli military have also used white phosphorus munitions in Gaza, a densely populated area, which puts civilians at unnecessary risk and is unlawful.”
Israeli authorities have also imposed a near-complete blockade on Gaza, which represented a tightening of the existing illegal blockade on the territory that has been in place for 16 years.
The UN has described the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza as “intolerable” and “beyond dire.”
According to the letter, the actions of Israeli authorities in depriving Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people of access to water, food, fuel and power is a form of “collective punishment” and a war crime.
“The UK risks being complicit in and facilitating serious violations of international humanitarian law if it fails to halt arms exports to Israel immediately,” it added.
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