Spain halts major missile sale to Saudi Arabia over Yemen fears

People walk on the rubble of a building destroyed by air attacks in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.

Spain put the brakes on a sale of hundreds of missiles to Saudi Arabia amid concerns about their use against civilians in the war in Yemen. The defence ministry has launched a process to cancel the contract between Spain and Saudi Arabia signed in 2015 for 400 laser-guided munitions and will pay back the $10 million already paid for the weapons, broadcaster Cadena Ser reported.

The broadcaster said the bombs would have been used in Yemen, where UN human rights experts have said air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition have caused heavy civilian casualties and some may amount to war crimes.

“We confirm the news,” a Defence Ministry spokeswoman said, declining to give any further details. There was no immediate response from Saudi authorities. The ministry said last month it had never sold arms that could be used against a civilian population, condemned the killing of non-combatants in Yemen, and said it would review any possible sales that had not yet been closed and could be involved in attacks on civilians.

Cadena Ser said the Socialist administration of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who took over in Madrid in June after toppling his conservative predecessor, would pay back €9.2 million already paid for the material. In April, Spain signed a framework agreement to sell warships to Saudi Arabia in a deal estimated to be worth around €1.8 billion.

Human rights groups have denounced Western arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its allies in a war the United Nations says has killed more than 10,000 people and left 8.4 million on the brink of famine.

Spain is the fourth-largest provider of military equipment and weapons to the Gulf state, according to Amnesty International.The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, an independent global security database, said the United States, Britain and France are Saudi Arabia's main arms suppliers.

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