Israel & Gaza

The events we have seen unfolding in Israel and Gaza are truly horrific. Israel has suffered the worst terror attack in its history at the hands of Hamas, and Palestinian civilians in Gaza are experiencing a humanitarian disaster. I join the UK Government in utterly condemning the barbaric terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas on Israeli civilians. My thoughts are with those affected, especially the families of those civilians who have been killed.  

The UK Government supports Israel's right to defend itself from terrorism, while complying with international law. We are continuously engaging with Israel to ensure its campaigns are strictly targeted against Hamas combatants and military infrastructure. 

The Prime Minister made it clear that far too many aid workers and ordinary civilians have lost their lives in Gaza, and that the UK expects to see immediate action by Israel to end restrictions on humanitarian aid, deconflict with the UN and aid agencies, protect civilians and repair vital infrastructure like hospitals and water networks. 

The UK Government is carefully reviewing the initial findings of Israel’s investigations into the killing of the World Central Kitchen aid workers and welcomes the suspension of two officers as a first step. Their inquiry so far has highlighted failures in deconfliction processes and the unacceptable conduct of the IDF personnel involved. This must never happen again. The Foreign Secretary has underlined the need for Israel to ensure effective deconfliction in Gaza and ensure effective systems to guarantee the safety of humanitarian operations. The UK continues to raise this with Israel at the highest levels 

The UK recognises the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people and supports a lasting solution for Israelis and Palestinians alike. However, Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people or their aspirations; it offers nothing to them other than more terror and bloodshed. I support Israel’s right to go after Hamas, take back the hostages, and strengthen its security for the long term. The loss of every innocent life is a tragedy, and the above must be done in line with international humanitarian law. Israel will not win this war if its operations destroy the prospect of peaceful coexistence with Palestinians. Every effort must be made to minimise the impact on ordinary Palestinians. While acknowledging that Hamas has enmeshed itself behind the civilian population of Gaza, the UK Prime Minister has called on the Israeli Government to take every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians.  

For many years, before and after the October 7 attacks, the UK Government has consistently called – both bilaterally and via the UN – for an immediate end to all actions that undermine the viability of the two-state solution. This includes the eviction of Palestinians from their homes, the demolition of Palestinian property – homes, schools and so forth – and Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The UK also clearly states that the Palestinian Authority must take much needed steps on reform, including setting out a pathway to democratic progress.  

The Government’s response is now focused on three key areas. Firstly, the UK is working to prevent escalation and further threats against Israel. To this end, we have increased our military presence in the eastern Mediterranean, deploying a Royal Navy task group and bolstering our forces in Cyprus. Secondly, the UK is increasing humanitarian support. We have historically been a significant provider of aid to the Palestinian people, but in light of the situation in Gaza, we have gone even further. Since 7 October, the UK has made available more than £100 million of additional humanitarian assistance to support partners including the British Red Cross, UNICEF, the UN World Food Programme (WFP), and the Egyptian Red Crescent Society to respond to critical food, fuel, water, health, shelter and security needs in Gaza.  

I wholeheartedly welcome that more than 2,000 tonnes of food aid – the UK’s largest delivery of aid to Gaza so far – crossed the border on 20 March and is being distributed on the ground by the UN WFP. This adds to the 150 tonnes of UK-funded relief items including blankets and tents, which arrived on 13 March and will be distributed by UNICEF. A full UK field hospital run by UK-Med has also arrived in Gaza and is now operational and providing life-saving care. This facility is able to treat over 100 patients a day, ensuring those with health issues have access to vital aid. Moreover, the UK is providing £3 million towards equipment to support UN and aid agencies to get more into Gaza, including trucks, forklifts, generators and lighting towers, and on 6 April, the UK announced £9.7 million to set up a maritime aid corridor to Gaza. 

Israel has now taken significant steps to increase aid getting to Gaza, including: allowing the delivery of humanitarian aid through the Port of Ashdod and the Erez checkpoint; increasing the number of aid trucks to at least 500 a day; increasing capacity through the Jordan land corridor to 100 trucks a day; extending the opening hours of the Kerem Shalom crossing; approving more types of aid, including fuel to enable more bakeries to open and hospitals to function; and approving activation of the Nachal Oz water pipeline to northern Gaza once repairs are completed. I welcome these steps, which the UK has been urging Israel to take for a long time. But further action is necessary. 

I note the calls for the UK to push for a ceasefire. The Government is working via all diplomatic channels—bilaterally and collectively in the region—to ensure that a sustainable ceasefire can be reached. For a ceasefire to be sustainable, the conditions need to be in place for it not to collapse within a few days. However, the reality is that Hamas have no interest in a ceasefire. They have no interest in resolution and have never attempted to engage in a two-state solution. Instead, they have made every attempt to collapse the Oslo process.  

I want to assure you that the UK is calling for immediate unimpeded humanitarian access to Gaza so that essential aid can reach civilian populations, including food, water, fuel, and medical supplies. The UK is also calling on all parties to protect border crossings to support safe humanitarian access and mitigate harm to civilians. The Foreign Secretary continues to engage regularly and closely with his Israeli counterparts, including in relation to ensuring the delivery of humanitarian aid to people in Gaza. The UK will remain committed to mitigating the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza and calling for International Humanitarian Law to be respected, while standing alongside the people of Israel against the terrorist group Hamas. 

As you may know, the UK has been a longstanding supporter of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). However, allegations that UNRWA staff were involved in the events that took place on 7 October in Israel are appalling, which is why the UK Government took decisive action to pause future funding to the organisation. The Foreign Office (FCDO) has not found the Colonna Report conclusive enough to renew funding for UNRWA as investigations on its alleged ties with Hamas are incomplete. Therefore, the UK is waiting for the findings of a second report before making a decision. 

I have also noted some of our constituents’ calls to end our Trade Agreements (FTA) with Israel. There are no plans to suspend the UK-Israel Trade and Partnership Agreement or to suspend negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Israel. However, I would like to assure you that the UK will maintain its long-standing foreign policy positions in this FTA, including with respect to the internationally recognised borders of Israel, and will continue to exclude illegal settlements.  

I share the UK Foreign Secretary’s concerns about the prospect of a military offensive into Rafah, as over half of Gaza’s population is currently sheltering in this area. The UK Foreign Secretary is working to prevent such a potentially destructive offensive.  

I would like to add that foreign policy is rightly the reserve of the national government. I believe it cannot be right for public institutions to have the power to make divisive decisions which set different parts of the community against each other. In particular, in the case of boycotts against businesses and organisations affiliated with Israel, there has been a horrific rise in antisemitic rhetoric and abuse which I believe must be stamped out. It is also not right for local authorities and public bodies to waste time and resources when they have key responsibilities to prioritise. This is why I support the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, which will prevent public bodies and public money being used to advance local-level boycotts or sanctions.  

This is a fast-moving situation, and I will be sure to follow events closely.