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Senators mull plan to block US arms deal with Saudi Arabia as death toll grows in Yemen

Rand Paul and Chris Murphy have criticised US foreign policy in Yemen and the human rights record of Saudi Arabia

Published 25/08/2016

People gather at the site of a house destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen (AP)
People gather at the site of a house destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen (AP)
Smoke rises after Saudi-led airstrikes hit a food factory in Sanaa, Yemen (AP)
A Yemeni woman with her face painted in colors of the national flag attends a gathering in support of the Huthi-led parliament, in the capital Sanaa on August 20, 2016. AFP/Getty Images

Republican senator Rand Paul is considering trying to block a US arms sales agreement with Saudi Arabia after labeling the country an "unreliable ally" and questioning its human rights record.

Just days after the $1.15 billion agreement has been made between the two countries, Mr Paul told Foreign Policy magazine that he would work with a bipartisan coalition to stop the sale. Politicians have 30 days to block the agreement.

"Saudi Arabia is an unreliable ally with a poor human rights record. We should not rush to sell them advanced arms and promote an arms race in the Middle East," said the Kentucky senator.

Although the war in Syria has received the mainstay of international attention, Yemen is also at war. According to Unicef figures in June, more than 14 million people in the Middle East’s poorest country are facing food insecurity and the same number need basic health care.

Mr Paul and his foreign relations committee colleague, democratic senator Chris Murphy, have been vocal in their opposition to US aid in Saudi Arabia.

They co-authored a bipartisan bill in April that would have forced the president to certify that the Saudis were “taking all feasible precautions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians” in Yemen before further arms deals were brokered.

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"If you talk to Yemeni Americans, they will tell you in Yemen this isn’t a Saudi bombing campaign, it’s a US bombing campaign," Mr Murphy said in June, as reported by Defense News. "Every single civilian death inside Yemen is attributable to the United States. We accept that as a consequence of our participation."

After peace talks in Kuwait fell apart, the situation is deteriorating in Yemen.

Fighting started again last week and more than a dozen people were killed when airstrikes hit a food facility.

A Yemeni worker looks at the damage at the Noor Centre for the Blind after it was reportedly destroyed by Saudi-led air strikes in the capital Sanaa on January 5, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
A Yemeni worker looks at the damage at the Noor Centre for the Blind after it was reportedly destroyed by Saudi-led air strikes in the capital Sanaa on January 5, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
Yemeni blind men hold a banner during a demonstration gathering disabled people to protest after a center for the blind was reportedly destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes in the capital Sanaa on January 6, 2016. Nearly 6,000 people have been killed since March, according to UN figures. At least 2,795 of them are civilians. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAISMOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Yemeni blind men shout slogans during a demonstration gathering disabled people to protest after a center for the blind was reportedly destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes in the capital Sanaa on January 6, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
Yemeni blind and disabled people shout slogans during a demonstration to protest after a centre for the blind was reportedly destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes in the capital Sanaa on January 6, 2016. Nearly 6,000 people have been killed since March, according to UN figures. At least 2,795 of them are civilians. AFP/Getty Images

The intervention started in March last year as Saudi Arabia wanted to restore Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, whose government was overrun by Houthi rebels, a Shia-led movement from northern Yemen.

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The UN high commissioner for human rights reported that 272 civilians have died between the nominal truce in April until the peace talks ended in August.

More than 1,100 children have died since the fighting began and more than two million people have been displaced, according to Unicef and the Associated Press.

While there is no stable government in Yemen, the country has also seen a surge in al-Qaeda fighters.

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