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British military officials have gone to Saudi Arabia to assist in its campaign of air strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen in the latest example of the UK's relationship with the kingdom which has drawn criticism from human rights groups.
According to Sky News, six experts are working with Saudi commanders who earmark locations for attack. But the MoD says they are not taking part in any direct operations but helping the Saudi army comply to rules of war.
However Human Rights Watch produced a report last month revealing 30 examples of the Gulf coalition's alleged breaches of international rules of war. David Mepham, director of the organisation said the UK's assistance is "deeply regrettable".
He said: "At a time when the Saudis and other members of the Gulf coalition are committing multiple violations of the laws of war in Yemen - we've documented that.
"Human Rights Watch has put out numerous reports about what the Saudis are up to in Yemen - that the British are working hand in glove with the Saudis, helping them, enhancing their capacity to prosecute this war that has led to the death of so many civilians. I think it's deeply regrettable and unacceptable."
Ten Gulf States, headed by the Saudis, are taking part in air strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen, a conflict which is seen as a proxy war between them and Shia-dominated Iran. On Thursday (7 January), Iran accused the Saudi-led coalition of launching a missile attack against its embassy in Yemen's capital Sana'a.
The violence in the Middle East has intensified following the execution of Shia dissident cleric Nimr al-Nimr by the Saudis for "terrorism" offences, in an execution that has divided the Middle East and led to human rights campaigners calling on the British government to reassess its close relationship with Riyadh.
Britain currently relies on the Saudis for military intelligence and training. Its oil and arms exports total £5.6bn in the last five years – something Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says he will review if he comes to power. But cooperation with Riyadh to help in the civil war in Yemen, where at least 10,000 Yemenis have died, could be seen by Iran as western meddling in the proxy conflict.
On 5 January, a home for the blind and the Chamber of Commerce in Sana'a were destroyed by Saudi Arabia-led airstrikes. The UN warned in December 2015 that the war-torn nation was just "one step away" from famine.
However regarding the British contribution to the Saudis in the conflict, the MoD said in a statement said: "UK military personnel are not directly involved in coalition operations, but are supporting Saudi forces through pre-existing arrangements and additional liaison officers in Saudi headquarters.
"We operate one of the most rigorous and transparent arms export control regimes in the world with each licence application assessed on a case by case basis, taking account of all relevant information, to ensure compliance with our legal obligations. No licence is issued if it does not meet these requirements."