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Italy blocks sale of missiles to Saudi Arabia and UAE

FILE PHOTO: Minister for foreign affairs of Italy Luigi Di Maio arrives to attend a European Foreign Affairs ministers council in Luxembourg October 12, 2020. Jean-Christophe Verhaegen/Pool via REUTERS

ROME (Reuters) - Italy has halted the sale of thousands of missiles to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Friday, citing Rome’s commitment to restoring peace in war-ravaged Yemen and protecting human rights.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are part of an Arab coalition that has been battling the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen since 2015 in a conflict seen as a proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran. The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 80% of its people in need of aid.

“This is an act that we considered necessary, a clear message of peace coming from our country. For us, the respect of human rights is an unbreakable commitment,” Di Maio said in a statement.

The Italian Network for Peace and Disarmament said Rome’s decision would block the sale of around 12,700 missiles to Saudi Arabia.

The blocked sales were part of a total allotment of 20,000 missiles worth more than 400 million euros ($485 million) agreed in 2016 under a centre-left government led by Matteo Renzi, the disarmament group said.

Renzi, who triggered a government collapse in Rome this week by pulling his Italia Viva party from the coalition, is under fire for recently visiting Saudi Arabia, where he told the crown prince he saw that nation as the site of a “New Renaissance”.

The new U.S. administration of President Joe Biden has paused some pending arms sales that could potentially affect Washington’s Middle Eastern allies.

($1 = 0.8236 euros)

Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Gareth Jones