- By lorne cook and aya batrawy the associated press
BRUSSELS — Feb 25, 2016, 12:52 PM ET
European Union lawmakers called on Thursday for an EU arms embargo against Saudi Arabia over airstrikes and a naval blockade in Yemen, despite lobbying by the kingdom.
In a resolution, the legislators called for the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini "to launch an initiative aimed at imposing an EU arms embargo against Saudi Arabia."
They expressed concern "at the airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition and the naval blockade it has imposed on Yemen," saying that they have led to thousands of deaths.
The resolution was passed by 449 votes to 36, with 78 abstentions.
At least 6,000 people have been killed since the Saud-led coalition of Arab countries launched their offensive in Yemen nearly a year ago. The fighting pits the widely recognized Yemeni government, backed by Saudi Arabia, against Shiite Yemeni rebels known as Houthis who overran the capital and other Yemeni cities in 2014.
The EU resolution is not binding on Mogherini or the EU member states, but the vote caught the attention of the Saudi government.
In a letter to some lawmakers dated last Sunday, and seen by The Associated Press, Saudi Arabia's ambassador in Brussels wrote that "our not taking action in Yemen would have had devastating geopolitical consequences."
"Riyadh considers its achievements in this campaign to be of critical regional significance to the international community," the ambassador said.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have defended their intervention in Yemen, accusing Iran of trying to use the Houthis to establish a Shiite militia just south of the Saudi border. Iran has acknowledged political support for the Houthis, but denies arming the rebels.
The EU lawmakers underlined that both Saudi Arabia and Iran are key to ending the crisis in Yemen. The regional foes also back opposite sides of the war in Syria and support rival political groups in Lebanon, Bahrain and Iraq.
Amnesty International issued a report in October, around six months after the start of the Saudi-led intervention, saying that there was "damning evidence of war crimes" by the coalition. It called for a suspension of transfers of certain arms to Saudi Arabia and other coalition countries, citing 13 airstrikes by the coalition between May and July in north-eastern Yemen that reportedly killed some 100 civilians, including 59 children. The report also documented the use of internationally banned cluster bombs.
Human Rights Watch Yemen researcher Belkis Willie told the AP that governments that arm Saudi Arabia "have rejected or downplayed compelling evidence" of civilian deaths. Willie said the European Parliament's vote could help curtail what she called "unlawful air strikes against the civilian population."
Yemen is one of the Arab world's poorest countries. Around 2.8 million Yemenis are internally displaced and 3 million children are out of school, with more than 80 percent of the population in need of humanitarian aid.