According to Middle East news sources, the Saudi government claimed the coalition had used cluster munitions in a "limited" capacity, against "legitimate" military targets, therefore not contravening international humanitarian law. However, it pledged to stop using cluster munitions nonetheless.
These assertions were echoed by UK Defense Minister Michael Fallon in the House of Commons on December 19, who welcomed the Saudi pledge.
Mr. Fallon added that he had seen no evidence that the "dropping" of cluster bombs had produced civilian casualties, rather that the subsequent discovery of unexploded cluster bomblets had. He assured the House that the UK government would continue to keep current sales of military equipment to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf "allies" under review.
Others responded less buoyantly to Saudi Arabia's claims.
Andrew Smith, spokesperson for the UK Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), said the limited admission made clear Saudi Arabia had employed weapons with much potential for causing "indiscriminate death and destruction," which "speaks volumes" about the character of the regime and the campaign it is waging in Yemen.
"If the UK sends the Saudis any further weapons — and BAE Systems is still vying to sell the regime 48 Typhoon fighter jets in a £4 billion (US$4.94bn) deal — it is knowingly arming a regime using munitions illegal to use and stockpile illegal in 108 countries. Still, this is a potentially significant development, and will hopefully add to the pressure for sales to cease. It shouldn't take undeniable evidence of a serious and growing humanitarian catastrophe and proven use of banned munitions for the UK to stop arming Saudi Arabia, but if that's what it takes, so be it," Andrew Smith, CAAT spokesperson, told Sputnik.
Smith added that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson evidently had some doubts about Saudi actions in the wider region. Privately, he has called the Saudis "puppeteers," but publicly maintains the Kingdom ranks as of the UK's closest allies.
"They cannot be both. The UK's continuing support for the Kingdom comes at a time when the UK government is making a big play of protecting British values, and tackling extremism. If the UK is as serious as it claims to be about values such as democracy, fairness, justice and the like, it surely shouldn't be actively supporting a country that clearly doesn't believe in them," Smith said.
Andrew Mitchell MP, former Secretary of State for International Development, told Sputnik that there will never be "any excuse" for breaches of humanitarian law.
"I'm very concerned by reports of civilian targeting, war crimes and human rights abuses in the war in Yemen. It's the 21st century and we're better than this — we shouldn't allow civilians to be treated in this way, it's appalling. I don't see the case for an embargo — however, weapons must be used in accordance with the law at all times," Andrew Mitchell MP told Sputnik.
In a statement, Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen, said a commitment by the Saudis not to use any more cluster munitions was "not good enough," and called for a "total suspension" of all weapons sales to Saudi Arabia:
"This is a very simple issue. If the Saudi-led coalition can use British-made cluster munitions against Yemeni villages, then we shouldn't be surprised that it can also bomb homes, hospitals, schools and factories in Yemen. The cluster bombs are more proof of the sheer recklessness of the coalition's tactics in Yemen. It's long-overdue for the UK to start honouring its international obligation to halt weapons sales where there's a clear risk that those weapons could be used to carry out serious breaches of international humanitarian law."