The international transfer of weapons to the Middle East has risen dramatically over the past five years, with Saudi Arabia’s imports for 2011-15 increasing by 275% compared with 2006–10, according to an authoritative report.

Overall, imports by states in the Middle East increased by 61%; imports by European states decreased by 41% over the same period. Britain sold more weapons to Saudi Arabia than to any other country. Saudi Arabia is also the biggest US arms market and buys more American arms than British, the report shows.

UK companies are estimated to have sold more than £5.6bn of arms to the Saudis since 2010, and more than 100 new export licences have been approved since the bombing of Yemen began a year ago. British Typhoon strike aircraft sold to Saudi Arabia are embroiled in a growing controversy over the bombing of civilian targets in Yemen.

The figures are contained in the latest arms sales survey by Sipri, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

“A coalition of Arab states is putting mainly US- and European-sourced advanced arms into use in Yemen,” said Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher with Sipri’s arms and military expenditure programme. “Despite low oil prices, large deliveries of arms to the Middle East are scheduled to continue as part of contracts signed in the past five years.”

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