By Stephanie van den Berg
THE HAGUE (Reuters) -A Dutch court on Friday dismissed demands by human rights groups to block the Dutch government from exporting F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel, which they said were enabling war crimes in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Judges at the District Court in The Hague said they must leave the Dutch government a large degree of freedom when it comes to weighing political and policy issues in deciding on arms exports.
The rights groups, which included the Dutch affiliate of Oxfam, said in their claim that Israel was using F-35 planes for which the Netherlands supplied spare parts in large-scale bombing attacks in Gaza that may constitute war crimes.
In the first ruling on arms exports to Israel by a court worldwide since Palestinian militant group Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks sparked war, the Dutch judges found it was likely that F-35s contributed to alleged violations of the laws of war.
“To everyone who has seen the images of the armed conflict, reads the news coverage about them and hears the comments of Israeli ministers about the Israeli reaction to the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, it seems evident that there are violations of humanitarian law,” the verdict said.
Israel denies committing war crimes in its attacks on Gaza, which followed the Hamas cross-border raid on southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which 1,200 Israelis were killed and around 240 were taken hostage.
A spokesperson for the Israeli foreign ministry told Reuters Friday it does not comment on internal Dutch proceedings.
Lawyers for the rights groups said they would almost certainly appeal against the court decision.
“We were successful in the sense that the claims by the state that there were no violations in Gaza, or we can’t assess that, has been wiped off the table and (the finding) that the F-35 is used in the war is extremely important,” lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld told Reuters.
The Netherlands houses one of several regional warehouses of U.S.-owned F-35 parts which are then distributed to countries that request them, including Israel in at least one shipment since the Oct. 7 attacks.
While the judges said it was likely that F-35s contributed to possible war crimes, they added that under the terms of the arms export permit they could only rule on the question of whether the government had made a reasonable assessment in allowing exports to continue and said there was no scope for a judge to intervene.
Since the Oct. 7 attacks Israeli forces have laid much of Gaza to waste, with nearly 19,000 people confirmed dead, according to Palestinian health officials, and thousands more feared buried under the rubble.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg and Bart MeijerEditing by Elaine Hardcastle, Mark Potter, William Maclean)