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Court orders Netherlands to stop F-35 parts delivery to Israel

An F-35 fighter jet returns to a Danish air force base on October 1, 2023
— The Hague (AFP)

The Netherlands must stop delivering parts for F-35 fighter jets used by Israel in the Gaza Strip, after a Dutch court Monday ruled there was a "clear risk" the planes would be involved in breaking international humanitarian law.

The Appeals Court in The Hague sided with a group of human rights organisations that argued the parts contributed to violations of law by Israel in its war with Hamas.

"The court therefore orders the State to put an end to the further export of F-35 parts to Israel within 7 days," said the ruling.

"There is a clear risk that serious violations of humanitarian law of war are committed in the Gaza Strip with Israel's F-35 fighter planes," added the judge.

The US-owned F-35 parts are stored at a warehouse in the Netherlands and then shipped to several partners, including Israel, via existing export agreements.

In December, the District Court in The Hague had said that supplying the parts was primarily a political decision that judges should not interfere with.

"The considerations that the minister makes are to a large extent of a political and policy nature and judges should leave the minister a large amount of freedom," the court ruled at the time.

But the appeals court overturned this ruling, saying the Netherlands "must prohibit the export of military goods if there is a clear risk of serious violations of the humanitarian law of war."

"Israel does not take sufficient account of the consequences for the civilian population when conducting its attacks," said the court.

The attacks in Gaza "have caused a disproportionate number of civilian casualties, including thousands of children."

The war was launched in response to the unprecedented attacks on Israel by Palestinian militant group Hamas on October 7.

Those attacks resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Militants also seized about 250 hostages, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures. Israel says around 130 are still in Gaza, though 29 are thought to be dead.

Israel has responded with a relentless offensive in Gaza that the territory's Hamas-run health ministry says has killed at least 28,340 people as of Monday, mostly women and children.

- 'Close its eyes' -

Dutch authorities had said it was not clear whether they even had the power to intervene in the deliveries, part of a US-run operation that supplies parts to all F-35 partners.

Government lawyers also argued that if the Dutch did not supply the parts from the warehouse based in the Netherlands, Israel could easily procure them elsewhere.

Export licences were granted in 2016 for an unlimited time, but the court ruled the situation had radically changed since then and the government had to take that into account.

"The fact that the licences are concluded for an unlimited time does not mean that the State can close its eyes to what happens afterwards," said the court.

Dutch trade minister Geoffrey van Leeuwen said the government was "of course disappointed" by the verdict and would appeal to the Supreme Court.

In the meantime, the government would "of course" fulfil the court's ruling "in full," added the minister, cited by Dutch news agency ANP.

International law experts have told AFP that human rights violations are likely being carried out by both parties to the conflict.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague, which rules on disputes between states, has said Israel must do everything possible to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza.

That ruling "strengthens our confidence in a positive ruling in our case," said PAX Netherlands, one of the rights groups involved in the appeal.

"This positive ruling by the judge is very good news. Especially for the civilians in Gaza," said Michiel Servaes, head of Oxfam Novib, another group involved in the appeal.