Rights groups file legal challenge with UK court, urging a halt on British arms exports to Israel


LONDON (AP) — Legal and human rights groups have filed a legal challenge with Britain’s High Court calling for the U.K. to stop granting licenses for weapons exports to Israel, activists said Thursday.

Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq and U.K.-based Global Legal Action Network said they took the step after Britain’s government repeatedly ignored their written requests to suspend arms sales to Israel following the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attack that triggered the current Israeli-Hamas war.

Ahmed Abofoul, an international lawyer at Al-Haq, claimed that Britain “has a legal and moral obligation” to not grant arms exports licenses to governments that commit atrocities. There have been widespread claims of breaches of international law by Hamas and Israeli forces since the war erupted.

Rights groups have long opposed British arms exports to Israel.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade nonprofit group says British industry, namely BAE Systems, provides some 15% of the components in the F35 stealth combat aircraft used by Israel.

The group alleges that the jets were used in the latest bombardment of Gaza, which Israel launched in response to the Oct. 7 attack, followed by a ground offensive in the besieged territory. The group says the components, along with other military equipment, are exported under “open general export licenses” that lack transparency.

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that Britain stands by Israel in its “darkest hour” as it wages war on Hamas following the Palestinian militant group’s Oct. 7 attack.

Last month, Britain’s Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said U.K. arms exports to Israel were “relatively small,” when he was asked whether weapons sold by Britain been used in violation of international humanitarian law and why such sales have not been suspended in light of the mounting death toll in Gaza.

Shapps said his government will not grant export licenses to any destination where applications do not meet its criteria.

“Our defense exports to Israel are relatively small — just 42 million pounds ($52 million) last year. They go through a very strict criteria before anything is exported,” Shapps told lawmakers.

The Global Legal Action Network said it also filed a legal challenge Thursday against defense and security giant BAE Systems.

“Given that BAE is known to export components to Israel under these U.K. licenses we are challenging, they are a potential interested party in the litigation,” said Siobhán Allen, one of the lawyers acting for the group in the case.

Activists have staged protests outside BAE Systems factories across the U.K. in recent weeks, urging the company to halt trade links with Israel.

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