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Britain revokes arms licenses over Gaza war

Britain has revoked several licenses for British companies to sell weapon components to Israel after what it called a "disproportionate" use of force during the recent assault on the Gaza Strip. Officials in both countries have played down the move.


REUTERS - Britain said on Monday it had blocked some arms sales to Israel over the offensive in the Gaza Strip in January, which Britain and its EU allies condemned as a "disproportionate" response to Palestinian violence.

Israel's foreign minister and British officials played down the move, which the British embassy in Tel Aviv said affected components for naval guns and ship-board radar. Most Israeli arms are American.

The bans reflect unease in Europe at three weeks of bombardment that killed over 1,100 Palestinians, many of them civilians. But British officials said it was no "arms embargo" and most licences to export weapons to Israel were unaffected.

An Israeli official said that of 182 licences to export arms to Israel, Britain had revoked only 5, related to parts for the Saar 4.5 Class corvette used by Israel to hit Gaza from the sea.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband had promised parliament a review in April after some legislators urged an arms embargo in protest at Israel's Operation Cast Lead against Hamas Islamists.

Miliband said that of eight EU criteria for allowing arms exports, Britain was concerned in the case of Israel with the risk weapons could be "used for internal repression", "provoke or prolong conflicts or aggravate existing tensions" or damage "regional peace, security and stability".

A British embassy spokesman said: "We judged that in a small number of cases, Israeli action in Cast Lead would result in the export of those goods now contravening the consolidated criteria. These licences have been revoked."

She called this "standard practice" and said some licences for Russia and Georgia were revoked after their war last year.

'No need to get excited'

"Israel has a right to defend itself," a British official said. "This said, we consistently urge Israel to act with restraint and supported the EU Presidency statement that called Israeli actions during Operation Cast Lead disproportionate."

Interviewed on Israel Radio, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman brushed off the British measures:

"Israel has seen many embargoes," he said. "We've always known how to get by. There's no need to get excited about this."

Miliband told parliament in April that Britain accounted for less than 1 percent of arms sales to Israel. Of naval weapons, he said parts for the Saar 4.5 Class's 76mm gun were British and said such vessels probably fired on Gaza during the offensive.

A Palestinian rights group says 926 civilians and 491 Palestinian fighters were killed in Gaza between Dec. 27 and Jan. 18. Israel, which lost 10 soldiers, and 3 civilians hit by rocket fire, says fewer than 300 Palestinian civilians died.

Israel rejects international criticism of its offensive, saying it was a necessary and carefully targeted response to rocket fire by Gaza's ruling Hamas and its allies that was disrupting life in nearby Israeli towns.

Amnesty International, in a report this month, accused Hamas of war crimes but said Israel inflicted "wanton destruction" and killed some 1,400 Palestinians.

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