Italy has blocked exports of arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the Foreign Ministry said on Friday, following warnings by activists and lawmakers about the use of weapons in violation of human rights in Yemen.
“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,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said in a statement.
Humanitarian groups hailed the decision as "historic," as it will determine a complete blockade on weapons sales to the Gulf countries.
The Italian Peace and Disarmament Network, a coalition of organizations campaigning against Italy's weapons sales, said the move would stop the supply of at least 12,700 bombs.
In 2018, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had pledged his government wanted to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of its involvement in Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“We are very satisfied,” said Democratic Party’s lawmaker Lia Quartapelle, commenting on the move. “The network against the use of weapons and catholic associations have turned the spotlight on violations of human rights in Yemen for a while.”
Earlier this week, US President Joe Biden also issued a temporary pause to arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE as his administration reviewed the exports.
“This common vision helps us improve a new dialogue with the US to manage the relationships in the Mediterranean in a more balanced way,” Quartapelle said.
The Italian decision came just as former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who plunged Italy's government into a political crisis recently by pulling his Italia Viva Party from the ruling coalition, flew to Saudi Arabia to speak at an investment forum.
Video footage published online showed Renzi praising the "great" Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, saying: "Saudi could be a place for a new Renaissance for the future."
The visit sparked controversy in Italy, as the blocked sales were part of a total export of 20,000 missiles agreed in 2016 by the center-left government led by Renzi.