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Israel Arms Licenses Revoked By Britain

AMY TEIBEL   07/13/09 12:01 PM ET   AP

Gaza

JERUSALEM — Britain has revoked several licenses granted to British companies to sell weapons parts to Israel because of concerns over their use in Israel's recent war in the Gaza Strip, British and Israeli officials said Monday.

The decision, which an Israeli official said applied to parts for missile boats, does not appear to affect Israel's military capabilities significantly. But it was symbolic given the international outcry against the Israeli military's conduct during the three-week war early this year. While recognizing Israel's right to defend itself, Britain has characterized Israeli actions during the bruising war as "disproportionate."

An Israeli official said Britain canceled five licenses that applied to Saar-class missile boat parts after reviewing 182 licenses in all. He had no further details on what parts were at issue, and spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss Britain's decision.

Saar boats fired missiles and artillery shells at targets along Gaza's coast and as cover for ground operations during Israel's three-week war against the territory's Hamas rulers, which the military termed Operation Cast Lead. The operation was meant to quell eight years of militant rocket and mortar barrages on southern Israel.

In London, a spokeswoman for Britain's Foreign Office confirmed a "small number" of export licenses were revoked, but added that there was "no partial U.K. arms embargo on Israel."

After reviewing export licenses after the Gaza fighting, "we judged that in a small number of cases Israeli action in Operation Cast Lead would result in the export of those goods now contravening" EU and British arms-export licensing criteria. "These licenses have been revoked," the spokeswoman said.

The Foreign Office did not specify how many licenses were reviewed or revoked, or which companies held the licenses.

Britain has revoked or rejected arms-exporting licenses to Israel in the past, Israeli and British officials said. Britain is not a major Israeli defense supplier.

There was no comment from the Israeli military or from the Defense Ministry, which oversees military purchases.

The war provoked an international uproar because of the high civilian death toll it exacted and the large-scale destruction it wrought. More than 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 900 civilians, were killed, thousands of homes were destroyed and Gaza's infrastructure suffered heavy damage, according to Gaza health officials and human rights groups.

Israel says about 1,100 Palestinians were killed and that the overwhelming majority were militants, though it has not backed up that claim with documented proof. Thirteen Israelis also died.

International human rights groups have said Israel's overwhelming use of force violated international laws of war _ an allegation it denies. Rights groups have also accused Hamas of war crimes for allegedly using civilian areas for cover to carry out attacks and firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas.

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Filed by Hanna Ingber Win  |