• Human rights activists have criticised UK government for helping induce "world's worst man-made humanitarian crisis."
  • "With one hand the UK provides arms, and with the other they whitewash war crimes," says Sophie Baggott.

UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia have surged by almost 500% since the start of its bloody conflict with Yemen.

More than £4.6bn of British-made weapons and bombs have been sold to the kingdom since 2015 when the war broke out, according to The Independent.

Saudi-led air strikes have killed 5,295 civilians and injured at least 8,873 others, the United Nations (UN) estimates, but warns that the actual figure is "likely to be far higher."

The conflict has sparked the world's worst cholera epidemic and left millions on the brink of famine.

Figures from the Department for International Trade (DIT) reveal that the UK government spent £1.9bn on licences for bombs and missiles in the past two years, a 457% increase compared with the two years before the conflict broke out.

Aircraft licenses have also risen by 70% to £2.6bn in the past two years, revealing that the UK government is accelerating sales as the number of Saudi strikes increases.

Tom Barns, co-director of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAA), condemned the increase in sales of "equipment being used to commit atrocities in Yemen."

"At a time when the UK should at least be putting more consideration into what's being sold they are giving more and more of these licences," he told The Independent.

The equipment includes the Paveway IV bomb, which is believed to have hit food stores in January last year, CAAT said.

Sophie Baggott, policy and research associate at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), told IBTimes UK: "This shameless surge in the UK's arms sales to Saudi Arabia has helped induce the world's worst man-made humanitarian crisis."

"Despite the UN having blacklisted this coalition for killing and maiming Yemeni children, Britain remains quick to leap to Saudi Arabia's aid – former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon recently urged MPs to stop criticising the Kingdom in case such comments jeopardise weapons deals.

"Meanwhile, the UK has provided training to Saudi Arabia's war crimes investigator, a body with no credibility, led by a Bahraini judge who sentenced doctors and torture survivors to prison in the Arab Spring. With one hand the UK provides arms, and with the other they whitewash war crimes," she said.

In September, the UK government was accused of blocking a UN probe into human rights abuses committed in Yemen. The revelation emerged after Saudi Arabia threatened its allies with economic retaliation if they decided to support the resolution.

The Labour Party barred Saudi Arabia from attending its annual conference in September, with leader Jeremy Corbyn calling on the government to stop selling arms to the kingdom given their use in the Yemen war.

"We are selling arms to Saudi Arabia... and at the same time we are sending aid in, we should not be doing both," he said.

David Mepham, UK director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), has criticised the UK government for its "extraordinary excuses for the Saudi-led coalition" and for suggesting that the Saudis' "half-hearted investigation" into air strikes in Yemen "mitigate the need for "an impartial, independent inquiry."

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