Rights groups file new case against German arms export to Israel

Pro-Palestinian protest in Berlin

By Riham Alkousaa

BERLIN (Reuters) -Human rights lawyers filed a lawsuit against a German government decision to approve the export of 3,000 anti-tank weapons to Israel, the second case of its kind this month filed over Berlin's support of Israel in its war in Gaza.

Last week, Berlin lawyers said they had filed an urgent appeal to halt exports of war weapons to Israel, citing reasons to believe they were being used in ways that could violate international humanitarian law in the Gaza Strip.

The latest case, brought by five Palestinians from Gaza, was supported by lawyers from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) in Berlin and Palestinian human rights organizations, ECCHR said in a statement.

ECCHR said the government granted export clearance for 3,000 anti-tank weapons to Israel after the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, but an export permit application for 10,000 rounds of ammunition to Israel had yet to be approved.

"Germany cannot remain true to its values if it exports weapons to a war in which serious violations of international humanitarian law are obvious," ECCHR Secretary General Wolfgang Kaleck said in a statement.

The lawyers called on the Berlin administrative court to suspend the export licenses as a provisional legal protection measure.

The economy ministry, responsible for arms export permits, confirmed litigation with respect to weapons for Israel was before the court but declined to comment on an ongoing case.

The German government has previously it examines each arms export individually and takes a number of factors into account, including human rights and humanitarian law.

ECCHR lawyer Alexander Schwarz told Reuters he expected a court decision in four to six weeks and if the suit was rejected, the plaintiffs could take an appeal to Germany's Federal Constitutional Court, its highest legal body.

Human rights groups have been going to court to challenge Germany's Israel policy that is driven by a commitment to atone for its perpetration under Nazi rule of the World War Two Holocaust in which 6 million Jews died.

In February, a group of German lawyers representing families in Gaza filed a criminal complaint against German officials for allegedly aiding and abetting genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza by providing Israel with weapons.

Israel has strongly denied accusations of genocide or violations of humanitarian law in Gaza, saying it is waging war to defeat the ruling Islamist group Hamas in the small, densely populated enclave.

Over 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's offensive, Gaza's health ministry says, after 1,200 Israelis were killed in Hamas' cross-border attack on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.

Last year, Germany approved arms exports to Israel worth 326.5 million euros ($353.70 million), including military equipment and war weapons, a 10-fold increase compared with 2022, according to Economy Ministry data.

(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa; editing by Miranda Murray and Mark Heinrich)