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United States green-lights sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia

The US State Department has approved a request from Saudi Arabia to buy thousands of bombs. The approval comes despite controversy over Saudi-led attacks on Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The sale of the more than 19,000 bombs and smart bombs would help Saudi Arabia restock the armaments it has used in its operation against the Houthi militia in Yemen and air strikes against "Islamic State" positions in Syria, US officials familiar with the deal said on Monday.

The $1.29 billion (1.20 billion euro) sale still needs to by approved by Congress, but as such deals are always carefully vetted before formal notification is given to lawmakers, it is likely to go through without problems.

In addition to the bombs themselves, the Saudis are to receive thousands of Joint Direct Attack Munitions kits that convert older "dumb munitions" into weapons guided by GPS signals.

The sales come on the heels of a pledge by US President Barack Obama to step up military support to Saudi Arabia and other Sunni allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council in the light of the nuclear deal his administration recently brokered with Iran, their Shiite rival in the region.

Civilian deaths

The deal has been approved despite the controversial air strikes carried out by a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen on Houthi rebels, who the kingdom claims are backed by Iran. Witnesses say that the air strikes have claimed

a large number of civilian lives

on the ground in addition to striking their intended targets.

But Saudi Arabia, one of the largest buyers of US weapons, is also a key US ally in the fight against the "Islamic State" jihadist group in Iraq and Syria.

A statement from the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which facilitates foreign arms sales, said that the provision of "these defense articles supports Saudi Arabian defense missions and promotes stability in the region."

tj/kms (Reuters, AFP)

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