FOREIGN Secretary Philip Hammond hinted at further British military involvement in the Middle East yesterday during a visit to the region to drum up support for action in Syria and Yemen.
Mr Hammond is currently touring the Gulf states where he will meet UN special envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to discuss Britain’s role in the peace process.
But human rights campaigners hit out at Mr Hammond for government refusals to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia, despite the monarchy allegedly dropping banned cluster bombs on civilian areas in Yemen.
Visiting in Riyadh yesterday, Mr Hammond said: “Wherever we look, the world is becoming more dangerous and more uncertain.
“International engagement is fundamental to maintaining both Britain’s security and our prosperity.
“Britain’s strong relations with the Gulf states enable us to work together on regional challenges and shared threats that confront us, whether from violent extremism, terrorism, or volatile economic conditions.”
He said the conflict in Yemen would be “high on his agenda” during the tour and that “allowing the state to collapse is simply not an option.”
But Amnesty International panned the discussions, pointing to the Saudis’ “reckless conduct” in the war, including the suspected use of British-made cluster bombs on civilian targets.
Amnesty’s policy and government affairs officer Allan Hogarth said: “Philip Hammond should use the visit to inform Saudi Arabia that the reckless conduct of its military coalition in Yemen is totally unacceptable and the UK will be ceasing arms sales to it and other coalition members until a full independent investigation of this bloody conflict is undertaken.
“Just last week we published evidence of how the Saudi Arabia-led coalition has been using internationally banned cluster bombs in attacks on villages in northern Yemen.
“Civilians — including small children — have been killed and maimed, with deadly unexploded bomblets left strewn over farming land, roads and even inside people’s homes.
“Time and time again Mr Hammond has sought to brush the issue of civilian deaths in Yemen under the carpet. Is today’s visit going to be just the latest example of that?”