The embargo was due to expire on March 9, but Germany’s foreign minister said on Wednesday the ban was being extended until the end of March to give the government time to evaluate Saudi Arabia’s military involvement in Yemen’s war.
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“We decided this with a view to developments in Yemen,” Heiko Maas said after a meeting of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet.
“We believe that the Yemen war must end as soon as possible.”
“Not only will there not be any permits issued until the end of this month, but products with permits already granted will also not be delivered,” he added.
There are no concrete casualty statistics for the war in Yemen. In 2017, a UN official said 10,000 civilians had been killed, though rights groups say the death toll could be five times that, due to fighting, starvation and disease. Millions are on the brink of starvation.
A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s war in March 2015 to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi‘s internationally recognised government, overthrown by the rebel Houthi group the previous year.
Rights groups have criticised the coalition for air raids that have killed thousands of civilians at hospitals, schools and markets, and urged Western governments to halt arms exports to Saudi Arabia and its allies in the stalemated conflict.
In October, Germany imposed a unilateral halt on weapons exported to Saudi Arabia after Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was critical of Riyadh, was killed by a Saudi hit team in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
But the coalition government in Berlin is under mounting pressure from Britain and France to lift the ban. They say it prevents them from selling jointly developed equipment with German components to Saudi Arabia.
Typhoon sale on hold
The issue is dividing Germany’s ruling coalition, with Maas’s Social Democrats, junior partners to Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s conservatives, reluctant to alienate voters who are generally sceptical about arms sales and military spending.
Polls show that around two-thirds of German citizens reject weapons exports.
Germany accounts for just under two percent of total Saudi arms imports. But its role in making components for other countries’ exports means that Berlin can still derail lucrative European projects.
The move has put a question mark over billions of dollars of military orders, including a $13.13bn deal to sell 48 Eurofighter Typhoon jets to Riyadh.
It has also held up shipments of Meteor air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia by MBDA, which is jointly owned by Airbus, BAE Systems and Italy’s Leonardo, since the missiles’ propulsion system and warheads are built in Germany.