Gaza: Al-Ahli Arab Hospital Explosion

– in the House of Commons at 12:39 pm on 18 October 2023.

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Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs 12:39, 18 October 2023

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on the explosion at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The destruction of the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza is an appalling tragedy. A hospital is a place of compassion and care. This devastating loss of human life is profoundly disturbing. I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I offer my sincere condolences to the families of the deceased and to the injured.

The UK is working intensively with our allies to establish the facts. We will not rush to judgment. The whole House will understand that pointing fingers prematurely only fuels regional instability and upsets community cohesion here in the UK. We need a firm grasp of what has happened, not a slew of social media commentary. We all share a duty to be thoughtful and careful in how we respond to reports emerging from the conflict, which can be at best incomplete or at worst examples of active disinformation. We are carefully analysing the evidence that has been put in the public domain, and other information. As soon as we have reached a definitive conclusion for ourselves, we will make it public.

Some things are not in doubt, however. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out, Hamas carried out a terrorist assault on Israel that was unprecedented in that country’s 75-year history. The whole House united in support of Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism. In defending itself, Israel must act with professionalism and an unwavering commitment to international law. States must take every precaution to minimise civilian casualties and ensure that humanitarian support reaches those in need. I welcome President Herzog’s unequivocal commitment—made both directly to me and in public—that Israel is operating in accordance with the rules of international law.

By embedding themselves in civilian populations, using innocent Palestinians as human shields, launching thousands of rockets since Saturday from one of the most crowded places in the world, and preventing civilians from heeding Israeli warnings about future areas of operation, Hamas reveal themselves and their callous indifference to human life. In this tense situation, UK diplomacy is relentlessly focused on our aims: supporting our nationals in their moment of need, pushing for and delivering humanitarian support, and working to prevent tensions spilling over into the wider region or playing out on the streets of this country. I have travelled to Israel and engaged with G7 allies and regional partners, and I will visit the region again later today because we recognise that this will require intensive effort.

None of us knows how this complex, protracted situation will develop. The Government are committed to keeping the House updated. Both here in the UK and in the region, this is a time for cool heads and determination to make a difference.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

Thank you so much, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his engagement with the Opposition at this very difficult time.

Today, we stand united in mourning the death of hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians at the Al-Ahli Hospital. A place of healing became a scene of destruction. Hospitals must always be protected. The death of every civilian, Palestinian or Israeli, is an equal tragedy that pushes back the cause of peace.

When facing an incident of this magnitude, we all have a duty to act responsibly and judiciously as the facts are determined. Will the Foreign Secretary join me in urging everyone in this House and beyond to be wary of disinformation, and to avoid dangerous speculation before the facts are clear? Will he also update the House on what he is doing to deal with outside powers that might be seeking to drive division on our own shores?

The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have rightly said that they are working to establish the facts, looking at intelligence with our allies, and that must be right. We also note President Biden’s comments earlier today. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm whether the UK Government share that initial assessment? I also ask him to share with us what information he can, either publicly or on Privy Council terms. Does he agree that those responsible for the deaths at the Al-Ahli Hospital must be held to account?

Since Hamas’s appalling terrorist attack on Israel 11 days ago, Labour has been crystal clear that: first, we support Israel’s right to defend itself, rescue hostages and protect its citizens; secondly, international law must be followed at all times; and thirdly, civilians must not be targeted, aid must be provided and innocent lives must be protected. Gaza is in the middle of an active humanitarian emergency: innocent Palestinian civilians are terrified for their lives. Can the Foreign Secretary today commit that the Government will leave no stone unturned in their diplomatic efforts to secure humanitarian access to food, water, fuel, electricity and medicines, and to ensure the establishment of humanitarian corridors and the proper protection of humanitarian workers? Palestinian civilians in Gaza must know that the world is not simply watching, but acting on their behalf.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The right hon. Gentleman makes a number of important points, which I commend to the House—a number of which I will respond to and, indeed, amplify. He is absolutely right that this is an incredibly sensitive situation, and not just for the region itself. Our desire to prevent this tragedy from expanding into a regional conflict remains an absolute priority, and of course we have a duty as a Government—I am sure it is a passion shared by the whole House—to ensure that Jewish and Muslim communities in the UK are safe and feel safe, and do not experience ramifications from circumstances that are far beyond these shores and beyond their control.

For that reason, everybody—particularly those who have a voice in the public sphere, whether formal or informal—should be particularly careful about what information they disseminate. They should be particularly vigilant against disinformation, and speculation is never useful. I appreciate that the House, and indeed the country, will want to understand what is going on in real time, and sometimes the pause that we impose on ourselves to ensure that the information the Government provide is accurate can be frustrating, but I would prefer, of course, to be accurate rather than just to work at pace.

The right hon. Gentleman is right that there are malign influences seeking to take advantage of this terrible situation, and we do guard against that. We take note of what President Biden has said, but we will come to our own judgment. We will work on that quickly and ensure that our assessment is put in the public domain as soon as we are confident of the details.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

As the Foreign Secretary said, we should soon know the direct cause of this explosion. I will send him and the Prime Minister a letter that I have received from the Worthing Islamic society—I think that Jewish people and others in my constituency will agree with every sentence. It ends by asking the Government to use their “influence and support” to

“encourage a peaceful and sustainable resolution that prioritises the rights and well-being of innocent civilians” caught up in the onslaught.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The Father of the House makes an incredibly important point. As a former Minister for the middle east, I am acutely conscious of the implications for Islamic communities both in the region and here in the UK, and the protection of those people is as close to our hearts as the protection of Jewish people here in the UK. We will relentlessly pursue what is the enduring UK Government position, which is a viable two-state solution, with Israelis and Palestinians living in peace side by side. Of course these circumstances are a setback, but nevertheless we will not be fatalistic. We will continue to work with Israel, the Palestinian people and the wider region to bring about that positive aim.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

It appears that what happened last night at the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza was a war crime—it was a crime against humanity—and if that is the case, there can be no hiding place for those who gave the order and those who carried it out. Independent investigators must be allowed to find out exactly who is responsible for this atrocity and have them brought before the International Criminal Court.

The scenes of death and destruction from last night are beyond harrowing, but the tragic reality of this conflict is that innocent civilian lives are being viewed as little more than collateral damage. They are not collateral damage; every single human life matters, and they matter equally—Israeli, including the hostages, who must be immediately released, and Palestinian.

Today it was reported that, as a direct result of the draconian collective punishment against the civilian population of Gaza, children are dying of thirst. Will the Government now finally tell the Israeli Government that the imposition of a collective punishment is a crime, that it is a breach of international humanitarian law and that it must end immediately?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I note what the hon. Member has said about the incident at the Al-Ahli Hospital. As I say, we will be making a statement only when we are comfortable about the facts. We have to be realistic that the opportunity for any kind of independent investigation going into Gaza is severely limited, which is why we are taking the time to ensure that we get this right.

In all our conversations with the Israelis, we have reinforced the need for the protection of civilians; they understand that and they agree. President Herzog has made a commitment about adherence to international law. We must, however, be completely clear that Hamas accept no such limitations on their actions. They have specifically targeted civilians and children—they went out of their way to identify and murder the most vulnerable—and it is completely appropriate for Israel to take action to protect its civilians and prevent Hamas from perpetrating further atrocities in that country.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

The situation is unbearable, but while the horrors of last night cannot be unseen, we must not look away. Violence is increasing across the region, but also in Europe and the US. We in this House have a duty to protect British nationals, so what assessment have the Government made of whether the joint terrorism analysis centre needs to raise the threat level? Can I also have reassurance about what is being done to protect out diplomatic staff around the world after the heinous attacks we saw on Israeli and American embassies overnight?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. We constantly assess the threat picture both here in the UK and in the region. I have conducted an all-staff meeting with Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office staff across the whole world—I am told that over 5,000 people attended that briefing. I made it clear that, as their employer, I regard my duty of care towards them as uppermost. We do of course continue to support British nationals overseas, including in the region, and our consular team are maintaining, as best they can, contact with British nationals in Israel, and indeed in Gaza. It is an incredibly difficult consular situation, but I can assure the House that we will remain, as far as we are able to, in contact with those British nationals seeking our support, and we are consistently trying to reopen exit routes from Gaza so that British nationals can leave.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Independent, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

The Foreign Secretary will be aware of the horror with which the missile strike on a hospital in Gaza, which caused hundreds upon hundreds of casualties, is regarded not just here in Britain, but in the region and internationally. The House has heard his injunction not to jump to conclusions, but would he support a genuinely independent inquiry into what is happening?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Of course, an independent inquiry is the gold standard in the event of such a circumstance, but the simple truth in relation to having any kind of independent investigation in Gaza is that the current situation—bearing in mind that our own embassy team there are severely limited in what they are able to do, and the international community is not able to operate freely—makes the practicality of that incredibly difficult. We are making our own assessment. We will gather and analyse as much information as we can. We will not be led by any other nation; it will be a UK assessment of the situation. Once we have come to a conclusion, we will share it with the House and the country.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

I am sure that my right hon. Friend and the Government are wise not to rush to conclusions, and to have a proper investigation before they come to a conclusion about what actually happened in this utterly appalling incident. I am struck by the number of emails I have received from constituents who have already rushed to conclusions, and all blame Israel. Does he agree that this shows the important responsibility not only that broadcasters have to ensure they do not disseminate false information, but that owners of social media platforms have to try to avoid hate being spread literally around the world at times like this?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

My right hon. Friend will know that, within Government, action is being taken to ensure that social media owners act with greater professionalism and greater consciousness of the impact they have. I would make a broad point to broadcasters—I have had this conversation directly with them in the past—which is that I believe there is an attempt by broadcasters to try to outpace social media platforms. The days of breaking news on traditional platforms are long in the past; they should focus on accuracy rather than pace, because their words have impacts here in the UK and around the world.

Photo of Sam Tarry Sam Tarry Labour, Ilford South

My heart breaks for everyone who lost their lives in the Episcopal hospital disaster last night. It is now quite clear that even hospitals are not a safe place of refuge anywhere in Gaza. That hospital was struck by a missile the week before yesterday. I want to understand quite clearly from the Foreign Secretary why, as we call on the country for humanitarian access to Gaza, we are not also calling for an immediate ceasefire to enable that to happen. It seems to me bizarre that we cannot call for a ceasefire to enable that humanitarian corridor to open, because the scale of death that is now unfolding will reach tenfold over the next few days.

In line with that, I would really like to hear from the Foreign Secretary assurances that he is speaking to our Israeli counterparts to ensure that any Gazans and Palestinians who do evacuate will have an absolute right of return to their lands and do not end up languishing, as the millions of other Palestinian refugees currently still do, in both Jordan and Lebanon.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I have conversations regularly with the Israeli Government, and with the Governments of countries in the neighbourhood, about Palestinian refugees. I am unable to go into the details because they are extensive, but the hon. Member should be aware that we have always supported Palestinian refugees, with the £27 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and the recent announcement of an additional £10 million is a direct response to the situation there.

The simple truth is that Israel does have a right to defend itself. The truth is that Hamas have no interest in a ceasefire. They have no interest in resolution, they have never attempted to engage in a two-state solution, and they have made every attempt to collapse the Oslo process. They are no friend of the Palestinian people. They have fired literally thousands of rockets into Israel since Saturday. Israel does have the right to take action to defend itself and to recover its hostages, and the UK, while respecting that, will of course always encourage it to adhere to international law and to protect civilians.

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab Conservative, Esher and Walton

The Foreign Secretary is surely right to say that we must not rush to judgment on this incident, but does he agree that one fact we know right now is that the primary moral, and as a result legal, responsibility for the appalling civilian life loss in Gaza today and in the days ahead lies with Hamas, first for their attack on Israel, and secondly for the systematic practice of using civilians as human shields?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I know that my predecessor and right hon. Friend is very well read on this situation, and I pay tribute to the work he did when he was Foreign Secretary and I was his Minister for the Middle East and North Africa. He is absolutely right, and we must be clear-eyed about the trigger event. It was the most brutal mass murder in a terrorist action in the history of the state of Israel, and the largest loss of Jewish life on a single day since the holocaust. Of course Israel has the right to defend itself, and we must never forget that Hamas’s actions of embedding themselves in civilian communities and putting Palestinian lives intentionally at risk to pursue their political aims is completely unjustifiable.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Whatever the outcome of the independent inquiries into what happened with the tragedy in Gaza yesterday, in reality Gaza is such a densely populated area that no matter what efforts are made, the effects of bombing will be indiscriminate. If the Government cannot go as far as calling for a ceasefire, will they at least call for the end of the rockets and the bombs? If they cannot go as far as to call for the end of the bombing, can they at least call on Israel to stop bombing the south, where refugees from Gaza City are going at the instructions of the Israeli army? A cease in the bombing could trigger the negotiations that enable the release of the hostages.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I pay tribute to the work of the international community in trying to secure the release of the hostages. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister emphasised the work that the Qataris are doing in this instance. They are not the only ones doing that, and we will continue to support their efforts. I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says about calls to stop the air attacks on Gaza from Israel, but the simple truth is that the alternative is a ground assault by Israel and, as he says, the practicalities of any military operation in an area as densely populated as Gaza will be deeply challenging. Again, I remind the House that the people who murdered those revellers, those partygoers, those children and those old people embed themselves in civilian communities—in hospitals, in schools—specifically to use innocent Palestinians as human shields. We must all understand the culpability that they hold for many of these civilian casualties, but I will, of course, once again speak with the Israelis about making every effort that they are able to make to minimise civilian casualties.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

Whoever was responsible for the hospital attack last evening, it was an appalling human tragedy, and we think of all those who have lost their loved ones at this time. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to be evidence-led in what the Government say about this incident. Does he agree that if the UK intelligence community, whether that is GCHQ, the Secret Intelligence Service, Defence Intelligence and so on, are having to take time and deliberate in order to come to a conclusion, perhaps all of us in this place, including media organisations outside this place, should also show the same caution and consideration before making statements that could prove incendiary?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. There is, of course, the completely understandable desire of media outlets to report promptly, but I believe they have a greater duty to report accurately and responsibly. Words that emanate from the UK are taken seriously. We have huge standing in the world, and things that are said at the Dispatch Box, in this House and on our media, are listened to around the world. Therefore, we have an enhanced duty to ensure that the words we say are accurate.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

I deplore the loss of all civilian life, Israeli and Palestinian, and I commend the Foreign Secretary for his caution over attributing blame for last night’s attack. Does he think that we should also be cautious about the figures for casualties coming from Gaza? They do not describe all as civilian casualties; there is reason to believe that there is a very high volume of Hamas combatants among those figures.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I am not going to minimise the pain and suffering of those Palestinian families who have lost loved ones and had people injured, but we know that just as Hamas are abusing the Palestinian people, they also abuse the figures that they put in the public domain. We must be highly sceptical of any information coming out of Hamas, just as the Prime Minister said we should be. We remain focused on trying to reduce the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people, as well as supporting Israel and its self-defence. While doing so we should be deeply, deeply sceptical of any and all information coming from Hamas spokespersons.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

I commend my right hon. Friend for his caution. We should remind ourselves of the words of Mark Twain:

“A lie can travel half way around the world” before the truth has got its boots on. Never more certainly was that the case than here. I remind hon. Members that Hamas bear complete responsibility for everything. Our hearts go out to all the innocents who have died and suffered—of course they do—but Hamas are the perpetrators and they have brought this on themselves. We remind ourselves that when they murdered all those Israeli Jews in the territories, they filmed them and committed atrocities deliberately. That was to remind the Israelis of the holocaust and what was likely to come. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that broadcasters should not enter into discursive debate? When as issue such as this happens, they should report the facts as known, and nothing further.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

My right hon. Friend speaks with authority and clarity on this, and I find myself in complete agreement with him. I have Jewish friends who are trying to keep their children off social media, because they know that they will be assaulted with images of Israelis who have been murdered and whose bodies have been desecrated. No one in the modern era should have to endure that kind of repeated pain.

Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Labour, Sheffield, Hallam

Evacuation orders in the past week have included hospitals, but many vulnerable people are unable to move because of their disabilities or illness. What conversations has the Foreign Secretary had directly with UK aid agencies and non-governmental organisations about that situation? What more can the UK do to ensure that civilian populations, including medical and aid workers, are protected?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important point, and my Department remains in close co-ordination with international aid agencies and NGOs. We recognise the practical difficulties of that evacuation order, and in a highly dense area such as Gaza we completely understand those practical difficulties, particularly for medical organisations.. As imperfect as it may be, attempting to remove civilians from a future area of military operations stands in sharp contrast with the actions of Hamas, who are actively seeking to prevent people from leaving an area of future conflict, and intentionally putting civilians in the way, using innocent Palestinians as human shields.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

I commend the Foreign Secretary, and his Opposition shadow, for their tone, but the fact is that last night an evil terrorist organisation that murders Jews and oppresses Palestinians was instantly believed in a number of quarters, whereas many refused to acknowledge that Jewish babies had been brutally murdered without demanding graphic proof. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that unsubstantiated reports such as those we saw last night might actually cost lives, because they inflame tensions in an already highly volatile region?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. Everything has a cost, and rushed, inaccurate reporting costs lives. Everybody, whether they are formally involved in the reporting process, a citizen journalist or just active on social media, should be very conscious that this involves real lives in the most sensitive of circumstances and that such reporting could have repercussions not just in the area or the region, but in this country as well.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

We rightly unite to condemn the barbaric actions of Hamas against innocent Israelis, and the loss of Palestinian lives and the unfolding humanitarian crisis is a profound tragedy. The scenes at al-Ahli Hospital shock us all, and I hope the Secretary of State will do everything to ensure an independent investigation, but people in Gaza are trapped, so what more will he do to ensure consular support not just on the ground there, but to families heartbroken back here in the UK? Will he hear and heed the words of Nadia El-Nakla, the wife of our Scottish First Minister, whose family are trapped there right now? She said:

“We are not watching a natural disaster, this can be stopped.”

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The consular department in the FCDO has got in contact with the families of those British nationals who are trapped in Gaza, and we are providing ongoing consular support. The hon. Lady will understand that the experience of the First Minister, his wife and their family is a live example of the plight of a number of families. Information is incomplete, our access is severely limited and sadly we have to rely on a number of interlocutors and people over whom we do not have direct control, including Hamas. We will continue to support British nationals as best we can, until they have been evacuated from that area.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons), Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons)

One fact that is not in dispute is that every rocket fired from Gaza into Israel is aimed at murdering civilians, in stark contrast to Israeli defensive action. Last night, there were Members in this place, including senior Members, scurrying around, stating as fact that this incident was caused by an Israeli rocket. The BBC and other media referred to statements by “Hamas officials”—I think they meant to say Hamas terrorists—and presented them as fact without challenge. That not only risks radicalisation of communities in this country, where we already know there is a problem with antisemitism, but puts Jews at risk. I urge colleagues to be careful of their comments given the role that blood libels play in promoting antisemitism.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point, and I restate my request of all people commenting on this—whether they have a formal role within the media or are in a high-profile position, such as Members of this House—to be thoughtful of the implications of their actions, to be sceptical of all information coming out from Hamas, and to take a little extra time to verify, which can literally save lives here and abroad.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

I know this situation is complex, and the taking of life and hostages, whether Israeli or Palestinian, is abhorrent, but we have to recognise that Palestinians cannot defend themselves. They have no means, and now their places of sanctuary, such as hospitals, are no longer safe places either. For that reason, I urge the Foreign Secretary once more to call for a ceasefire, so that we can see a de-escalation in this horrific conflict.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Of course everybody—I will rephrase that. All reasonable people want this terrible situation to be resolved, and resolved quickly. This was not a conflict that Israel asked for; it is a conflict that they were forced to engage in because of the mass murder in their country perpetrated by Hamas terrorists who embed themselves in schools, hospitals and in civilian communities. Calls for ceasefires are all well and good, but I have seen nothing—nothing—that leads me to believe that Hamas would respect calls for a ceasefire.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

May I say to my right hon. Friend that whatever the investigation finds out, in a sense it will not matter a great deal to all those who are dead in the hospital? Whether the Israeli explanation is correct that it was an Islamic Jihad missile that misfired and then landed among explosives that were on the hospital site that then killed so many people, or whether it was an Israeli strike, in the end both sides have now committed war crimes. If they are just additional crimes being added to the ledger on either side, that is simply what it will be. I say to my right hon. Friend, in his relations with Israel and in reinforcing the position of the Prime Minister, that the only way to get out of this mess is a ceasefire. Otherwise, we will not see the relief of people who are starving and are dehydrating to death—that is a collective punishment, which is illegal under international law—following the deportation of people from northern Gaza, which again is illegal under international law. There are specific offences that have already taken place, and I say to my right hon. Friend: for all our sakes, he should work, as he said, with clear-minded determination to get the best answer from our ally.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The House needs to understand that prior to Hamas’s terrorist attack, tens of thousands of Gazans passed through the border into Israel every day in order to work. Israel provided—often without payment—water, electricity and gas to the people of Gaza. That was interrupted as a direct result of Hamas’s brutal terrorist action. Thousands of rockets are fired from Gaza into Israel from in and among schools, hospitals and civilian communities. We do of course always remind Israel, as we would any other nation involved in military operations, of their duties under international law. President Herzog, Israel’s head of state, has reinforced that commitment. We hear no such commitment from Hamas.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking

Last night’s absolute tragedy of the explosion at the Al-Ahli Hospital will simply intensify passions and polarise the debate even more. Many children and young people here in the UK will have seen the images on our televisions and screens and on social media platforms, and I think they will be influenced by that. While I thank the Government for the money and support they are giving to the organisations protecting faith schools, mosques and synagogues, can the Minister tell us what he is doing to provide advice and support to ordinary schools and our universities, where there is an intensification of hatred emerging and where I am hearing of both antisemitic and Islamophobic views being expressed and attacks being wrought on individuals?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The right hon. Lady makes an incredibly important point. While I will not go into details of conversations in Cabinet, I can assure her that the protection of all communities in the UK was something that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities highlighted. That very much goes hand-in-hand with the commitment that the Home Secretary has made that we will protect all communities in the UK—Muslim, Jewish and others—and we will work with institutions, whether educational institutions or others, to try to ensure that the people at those institutions can go about their lives free from fear, intimidation and discrimination.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

I very much agree with the Foreign Secretary that the entity responsible for the loss of lives we are seeing now is Hamas: a terrorist barbaric organisation that killed innocent Jewish people. The question now is about doing everything we can to save lives of both Israeli and Palestinian people who are innocent in that regard. I welcome the Government’s commitment to humanitarian assistance for the ordinary people of Palestine and the Foreign Secretary’s differentiation, like the Prime Minister’s differentiation, between the people of Palestine and the terrorist organisation Hamas.

The Foreign Secretary says that, moving forward, we will work towards a two-state solution. The people in the region want to know what that two-state solution is. Is that based on Security Council resolution 242 and the 1967 borders, which the United Kingdom signed up to? What is a clear framework for that? The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend Alicia Kearns, has previously asked for the UK to appoint an envoy to the region. We have two brilliant contenders, if I may say so, in William Hague, the foreign former secretary who gets the region, and Alistair Burt, a brilliant, well-respected former Minister. We have choices and options. When will the Foreign Secretary outline that part of the next steps?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

My hon. Friend makes some important points. The truth is that we remain committed to a two-state solution, with Palestinians and Israelis living side-by-side in peace and prosperity. While at the moment and in these circumstances that might feel like an unachievable aim, we refuse to be fatalistic and give up that aspiration. The details will be for negotiation, but he and the House will have heard us say on a number of occasions that it will be based on the 1967 borders, with land swaps and a shared capital in Jerusalem. But we will not be dogmatic; what we want to see is peace brought about. I hear what he said about appointing a special envoy. We have some of our most capable people in our posts in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and in Gaza.

Photo of Anum Qaisar Anum Qaisar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Levelling Up)

I repeat my condemnation of the Hamas attacks against innocent Israeli citizens. We saw civilians in Gaza forcibly moved from their homes with no guarantee of safety or return, yet the Government failed to speak out. We saw food, water and electricity cut off in Gaza, yet the Government failed to speak out. Last night, we saw the destruction of a hospital in Gaza. The Government now need to speak out.

Will the Foreign Secretary support the International Criminal Court investigation into the situation in Palestine, given that the prosecutor has said that its mandate includes the current context? That so obviously and urgently must include investigation of the hospital explosion. We need to ensure that no more blood is spilled. We need a ceasefire now.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I must say to the hon. Lady that her assessment of the UK Government’s voice on this issue is fundamentally wrong. We have consistently discussed with Israel—and publicly—our commitment to humanitarian law. She needs to understand that a military force highlighting a future potential area of conflict and encouraging people to move away from that area of conflict is not forced relocation. [Interruption.] It is not forced relocation. I draw her attention to the actions that Hamas have taken to prevent innocent Palestinians from moving away from places of danger. The contrast could not be more stark.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

Given that we do not know the facts about what happened and whether, for example, this was a ghastly mistake, we should be here not to blame but to mourn the loss of so many doctors, staff and patients at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, which I and several other hon. Members from the House visited more than a decade ago. It was founded in the late 19th century by the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and is run by it to this day, so it is likely that Christians as well as Muslims will have lost their lives.

Will my right hon. Friend, whose approach has been appropriately calm at a time when we need to reduce and not inflame tensions both domestically and in the middle east, do his best to stay in touch with the Anglican Church to see if it has more information about what has happened to those who were there, to see how we can help re-establish what was a valuable programme—for example, it provided free breast cancer treatment and mobile clinics—and do all he can to think about how, in the longer term, we can enable people in that troubled land to co-exist in a way that we have, for so long, failed to do, supporting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency as far as possible on its humanitarian mission?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the tragic loss of life in this instance. As I have said, the UK Government share in the grief of those who have lost loved ones, irrespective of their faith or their community. We know that there are incredibly passionate voices on both sides, but, as I have said a number of times, we have a duty to be calm and careful when we speak about this issue. We will continue to work for peaceful co-existence of all the communities in that region. As difficult as that is, it will remain a priority for the UK Government.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission

Order. It is my intention to call all Members who were here at the beginning of the urgent question and who are trying to catch my eye. I have to say to the House that we are clearly dealing with a very sensitive, emotive and sad subject, but it is not necessary for every Member to express their grief, understanding and empathy. That has been done. Let us take it for granted that we are all broken-hearted about the situation; let us not repeat that before every question. This is not an occasion for speeches; it is one for questions. If we can have straightforward, short questions that enable the Secretary of State to give straightforward, short answers, we will get everyone in. If not, there will be disappointment.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I am terrified that there will be an escalation leading to many more civilians on all sides being murdered. I have listened intently to what the Foreign Secretary has said about why he is not calling for a ceasefire, but could he explain both as a diplomat and as a military man how we can get humanitarian aid in, how we can create safe zones and how we can prevent civilian loss of life? Slightly longer term, will he tell us what conversations he is having with the international community about long-term aid and support for the inevitable Palestinian refugees?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The hon. Lady, the Chair of the International Development Committee, makes an incredibly important point. I, the Prime Minister, my ministerial colleagues and of course our ambassadorial teams in the region have been speaking extensively to try to facilitate humanitarian access. That has been most notably with Egypt, but we have also been using our very good relationship with the Qataris to try to influence Hamas, and of course our direct relationship with Israel to try to broker some kind of humanitarian access, even if only temporarily. Thus far, that has been unsuccessful. We will continue to work on that. We have allocated an additional £10 million for direct humanitarian support for the Palestinian people—of course, we are not limited to just that—and we co-ordinating with the international community to ensure that whether in Gaza or wider in the region, Palestinians are looked after in these difficult times.

Photo of Duncan Baker Duncan Baker Conservative, North Norfolk

My constituent Rev. David Longe is a priest in North Norfolk and formerly served as a priest in Jerusalem. I spoke to him on the telephone last night, and he has potentially lost friends who were working in the Al-Ahli Hospital. He tells me that there are Gazans sheltering in churches, so will the Foreign Secretary please make it absolutely clear in his discussions that the humanitarian role that the churches are currently partaking in must not be underestimated and that the Roman Catholic Church in North Gaza and the Greek Orthodox Church must be absolutely protected for the people they are sheltering?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the faith communities. We often talk about the Jewish faith and Islam but when it comes to this region, the Christian churches play an incredibly important role, and I pay tribute to them. I have heard his point, and I will continue to speak about the avoidance of civilian casualties, particularly in places of safe haven such as churches.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

When seeking to counter an insurgency in Afghanistan over a decade ago, General McChrystal adopted a new concept for NATO soldiers: courageous restraint. This was to separate the insurgents from the civilians among whom they lived. Can the Foreign Secretary inform the House how courageous restraint can be urged on all combatants, including through the full resumption of the water supply to Gaza?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Courageous restraint, which the hon. Gentleman highlighted, is now a well-embedded concept in professional military forces. I have discussed with representatives of the IDF my admiration for its professionalism and my expectation that it will maintain that professionalism through any military operations. Courageous restraint is not a concept in the heart of Hamas terrorists. We must be realistic about that. Therefore, we will work with Israel and other countries in the region to try to bring this to a conclusion as quickly as possible, but we maintain our support of Israel’s self-defence and we highlight the fact that Hamas are just as willing to see Palestinians killed as they are to see Israelis killed, to pursue their political aims.

Photo of Nicola Richards Nicola Richards Conservative, West Bromwich East

Last night, much of the UK media felt it appropriate to immediately and with no room for doubt blame Israel, before the IDF gave its evidence that the rocket was launched from Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It is right that the UK Government independently assess what happened. All that is made so much harder because Hamas have no morals, no boundaries and no problem with killing any innocent civilian in Israel or Gaza. Will the Foreign Secretary reassure me that he knows that standing with Israel now will put us on the right side of history?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the callous nature of Hamas’s activities and those of other terrorist groups embedded in Gaza. We expressed our solidarity with the Israelis in their time of grief in the aftermath of those terrible attacks, and we stand in solidarity with them still. We are good friends with the state of Israel. Good friends speak honestly with each other, and we will always do that, but we will always stand beside a nation that seeks to protect itself and its people in the face of such a relentless terrorist threat.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Last night’s explosion at the Al-Ahli Hospital only adds to the unspeakable pain of innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza. As the Foreign Secretary knows, they face a deepening humanitarian crisis, unable to access food, water, fuel, electricity or medical supplies. When does he expect supplies of those lifesaving necessities to be restored to Gaza?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

We have spoken to Israel and countries in the region about the humanitarian need, which is why we put forward the additional money that the Prime Minister announced on Monday. Of course, we do not want those innocent Palestinians caught in Gaza, who are suffering because of the actions of Hamas, to suffer any more than is absolutely necessary. We will continue working with the international community on humanitarian support and with Israel on the preservation of civilian life.

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows Scottish National Party, Motherwell and Wishaw

I keep hearing the words of my mother in my brain, and I have done for the last week: “Twa wrangs dinnae make a right.” Hamas are an indefensible organisation in any right person’s books, but the fact that they will not do right does not mean that the UK Government should not demand and work hard towards a ceasefire, and make sure that humanitarian aid gets into Gaza. I thinking repeatedly, as do many others, of helpless children. I am a mother and a grandmother, and that is what I think about every night. Will the Foreign Secretary please make every effort not just to have money set aside but to tell us how he will get humanitarian aid into Gaza City and help those who are suffering in Israel as well?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Calls for a ceasefire are understandable, and I have much sympathy for the position the hon. Lady sets out, but a ceasefire has to be respected by both parties in a conflict, and I have seen absolutely nothing in the behaviour of Hamas during and since the terrorist attack that gives me any confidence at all that they would respect a ceasefire. Unless they respect a ceasefire, it is not credible to demand that Israel does not defend itself against terrorism.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

To follow up on the previous point, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres has also called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. Clearly, the Foreign Secretary has some issues with that, though I do not really understand why. Is it not appropriate for a third party with people on the ground, such as the UN, to make an assessment—one that, with respect, is probably more realistic than his? In the meantime, what safe corridors are being proposed? Has the Foreign Secretary considered them, so we can at least have some safe evacuation for Gazans?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I remind the hon. Lady and the House that we have people on the ground. My staff are in danger in Gaza. They choose to put their lives at risk in an incredibly dangerous part of the world in order to give me direct insight into the realities on the ground. I urge her to be a bit more thoughtful with regard to the danger that my UK-based diplomats and locally engaged staff put themselves in.

The truth is that I have received nothing that gives me any indication that Hamas or the other terrorist groups operating in Gaza would respect a ceasefire. I respect the UN Secretary-General’s call for a ceasefire. We would all love to see the bloodshed cease, but we have to be realistic about the fact that Hamas, like the other terrorist organisations in Gaza, have demonstrated over and again a complete callousness towards human life, whether Israeli or Palestinian.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

After all the decades of suffering, injustice and occupation endured by the Palestinian people, this terrorism and the scenes of death and destruction at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital are truly heart-wrenching. Those responsible must be held to account, international law must be adhered to and there should be no collective punishment of the Palestinian people. Will the Secretary of State advise the House how he feels peace can be obtained, and of his efforts to urgently deliver food, water, medicines and other aid to blockaded Gaza?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The hon. Gentleman and the House will have heard the detailed explanation that I gave in answer to the initial question of Mr Lammy. We work relentlessly with the countries neighbouring Israel and Gaza. I will travel to Egypt once again to try to facilitate humanitarian support, and we will work with those countries that are able to influence the leadership in Gaza. We will not rest. We will continue to do everything we can to alleviate this terrible humanitarian situation. The hon. Gentleman asked what is the best thing to do for peace. A good starting point would be terrorists not firing rockets from densely populated areas into Israel.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Secretary of State for his clear commitment and true words that, I believe, have captured the collective opinion of us all in this House. As he said, last weekend Hamas terrorists killed 1,400 Israelis, injured 3,500 and kidnapped almost 200. The news last night and this morning filled us all with despair. The bombing of the ill and the elderly at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital is reprehensible to the extreme and to be condemned. However, the circumstances of that horrific event are not clear. Does the Secretary of State agree that while horror and sympathy are to be expressed, judgments must be withheld until all facts are known and clear?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The hon. Gentleman, as always, speaks with great thoughtfulness on this issue. The immediate and understandable expression of sympathy and condolence is absolutely right and proper, but that should not be conflated with a rush to judgment. Doing so has significant effects, and, as I have said, can quite credibly cause further pain, suffering and loss of life. We should all be conscious of that when we speak in the public domain.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

I thank the Secretary of State for the work he is doing to bring home my constituent who is trapped in Gaza. I note his comments about the consular support for UK nationals. I would be grateful for any further information he can provide—if he can—on facilitating the safe passage of UK nationals and the flow of humanitarian aid. I urge him to pursue these matters on his trip to the region later today.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I assure the hon. Lady and the House that those are exactly the issues I will be raising on my forthcoming travel to the region. The consular team in the FCDO is making regular contact with those people in Gaza for whom we have contact details, to give them as much notice as possible as and when an exit route becomes available. At the moment that has not become available, but we will keep working to open humanitarian routes and to inform people once they are opened.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

We do not yet know who is responsible for the unspeakable atrocity at the Gaza hospital, but we do know that hundreds were killed and hundreds more were injured; we do know that yesterday an IDF airstrike hit an UNRWAUnited Nations Relief and Works Agency—school where thousands were sheltering, killing more; and we do know that over 3,000 civilians have been killed in Gaza so far. Israel does have the right to self-defence, but that cannot include mass bombing of densely populated areas if Israel is simultaneously to stay within international law. I urge the Secretary of State to think again about the issue of a ceasefire. Of course it would need to be worked for and of course it is going to be hard, but unless the UK Government give their backing to the UN on this issue, thousands more will be killed. We should be on the right side of history and I am very much afraid right now that we will not be.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Israel is one of the parties engaged in this military operation, but there are others, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. I suggest that anybody calling on Israel to cease military operations should at least—at least—call on the terrorists to do likewise.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Exports)

As hospitals are targeted, medical relief organisations are desperately trying to evacuate sick and wounded patients to increasingly fewer places of safety, while protecting the dedicated staff looking after them. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm how many functioning hospitals are left in Gaza and how Palestinians who continue to be targeted by bombardments are supposed to receive lifesaving medical treatment?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The simple truth of the matter is that I do not know the status of the medical facilities in Gaza. We want them to be protected—we have made that clear, and we will continue to do so in all future engagements and conversations we have with Israel. We will, of course, call on Hamas and the other terrorist organisations to remove themselves from the proximity of those hospitals if they are conducting military operations.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Trade), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Chief Whip

The UN reports that the last water treatment desalination plant in Gaza has shut down. At the same time, people are drinking contaminated tap water and polluted sea water. The World Health Organisation says that people need 15 litres of water a day and people in Gaza are surviving on three. Can the Foreign Secretary tell me what practical steps are being taken to ensure the resumption of fuel supplies to water treatment works in Gaza?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The situation with regard to the provision of electricity, gas and water from Israel to Gaza is of course important. We have spoken with Israel about this. The hon. Gentleman makes the point that Gaza did have its own water production capabilities. We saw videos posted by Hamas proudly demonstrating how water pipes, funded by European aid, were being ripped up and turned into rockets to fire into Israel. Although of course we speak with Israel about support to the Palestinians in Gaza, and our own support to the Palestinians in Gaza, we must not overlook the fact that Hamas has habitually persecuted, punished and oppressed the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

We have already seen one Iranian terror proxy, Hamas, launch attacks against Israel in the past 11 days, but we know that another Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, is waiting in the wings to attack Israel from the north—indeed, this may have already started. What steps are the Government taking to deter Hezbollah from seeking to attack or otherwise undermine Israel at this most difficult time?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The hon. Lady makes an incredibly important point. The United States of America and the United Kingdom have put naval assets in the eastern Mediterranean, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s questions. That is not to conduct military operations; it is to conduct surveillance operations to prevent Iran, or indeed anyone else, from supplying Hezbollah with lethal aid that might be used against Israel.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

In recognising Israel’s right to self-defence against Hamas’s brutal terrorism, the Government have rightly cited international humanitarian law. However, it seems to be the position of the Government that it has so far not yet been broken. Indeed, today the Foreign Secretary has several times cited President Herzog to that effect. By contrast, we have a number of UN agencies and actors, non-governmental organisations and international lawyers all saying that collective punishment is a clear breach of international humanitarian law, including, for example, the cutting off of supplies and the forced movement of people. Frankly, forcing people to leave their homes or hospitals because they are under threat of bombing is forced movement. How does the Foreign Secretary address those contradictions in the UK Government’s position?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

There are no contradictions in the UK Government’s position. I have set out the Government’s position. The hon. Gentleman may disagree with it and others may disagree with it, but there are no contradictions.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care)

The terror attack on Israeli citizens and the subsequent abduction was brutal and evil. The scenes from Al-Ahli hospital last night on the television were beyond comprehension and upsetting, and it goes without saying that we have to do everything we can to stop the impending humanitarian crisis in Gaza from happening. But I am really concerned—I am sure the Foreign Secretary is—that the conflict between Israel and Hamas does not spill over into the streets of any community in the United Kingdom. My home city, Manchester, is welcoming of Muslim and Jew alike. What more are the Government doing to ensure that the catastrophe in the middle east does not end up on the streets of Britain?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. I can give him and the House our commitment to protect all communities in the United Kingdom. No one should be held responsible for actions happening thousands of miles away. They have an absolute right to live in peace and security here in the UK. The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the rest of the Government are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to protect all people, of whatever faith or community, here in the UK.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Alba, East Lothian

Fourteen hundred years on from Cáin Adomnáin, the law of the innocents to protect women and children in conflict, both the terror of Hamas and the utterly disproportionate and illegal response by Israel stain our modern world. Rather than the supine acceptance of Israeli-US policy, will the Secretary of State instead heed the wise counsel of President Higgins of Ireland and seek both an immediate ceasefire and justice for the Palestinian people?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

UK foreign policy is set in London, not in Washington and not in Dublin.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

The Foreign Secretary has talked about accountability and accuracy in broadcasts and social media. Does he share my bafflement at why the BBC, our national broadcaster, has repeatedly refused to describe Hamas as a terrorist organisation when they are a proscribed terrorist group?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I am genuinely baffled by this. I understand that the BBC says that to do so would be to take sides, but I fundamentally disagree with that. The BBC has used the word “terrorist” on a number of occasions, both domestically and internationally, and I just do not understand why it cannot bring itself to describe Hamas as terrorists, because that is what they are.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

It is imperative that we get to the bottom of the terrible tragedy that unfolded at the hospital last night, and hold to account whoever was responsible. When I visited the region last year, I saw and heard just how difficult it is to supply medical care to the Palestinians. Hospitals across Gaza now face running out of food, fuel and water, and several have been given evacuation orders which, according to the World Health Organisation, patients will not survive. May I urge the Foreign Secretary once again to join the United Nations in calling for the immediate resumption of essential supplies to Gaza in line with international humanitarian law, which he says he keeps calling for?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The hon. Lady has repeated a question that has been asked in the House a number of times, and she will have heard the answers that I have given on each of those occasions.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

The grief and loss of millions in Gaza and in Israel have only been added to by the horrific and heinous attack on Al-Ahli Hospital. I was pleased that both the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary reiterated our commitment to international law and the importance of bringing those who commit war crimes to justice while also not rushing to judgment. We have our own staff and international humanitarian agencies on the ground in hospitals in Gaza. What is the Foreign Secretary doing to ensure that those hospitals can carry on treating innocent civilians, working with the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the hospitals themselves?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

We do of course speak with Israel, and, as I have said, we call on the Israelis to employ the professionalism of which they are understandably proud to minimise civilian casualties and to ensure that, where possible, civilian infrastructure—particularly schools, hospitals and religious sites—is not damaged. However, it is not by accident that Hamas habitually embed their terrorist operations in those very places, making the lives of Palestinians inevitably far more dangerous than they would be otherwise.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

I commend the UK Government for the announcement of an extra £10 million of aid for Gaza, but that will be of no use to the civilians who are trapped and injured there if it just piles up at the border. What analysis have the Foreign Secretary’s officials conducted of the legality of the Israeli authorities’ order to restrict supplies of water, food, fuel and electricity to Gaza, and the legality of their order to 1.1 million Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza to evacuate and travel south? Those are questions of legality, Foreign Secretary.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The hon. and learned Lady will know that legal advice within the Department is for Ministers, to inform our decision making. The broader point is that we do of course want to end the suffering that Palestinians are experiencing, and the best way of doing that is to remove the yoke of Hamas from their shoulders—which is why we support, within the framework of international law, Israel’s right to self-defence.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Education)

Hundreds of my constituents have written to me expressing horror at the attacks that have happened in Israel and, now, at the unfolding catastrophe in Gaza. One of them has 25 family members in Gaza.

Al-Ahli is one of 22 hospitals in northern Gaza. In view of the hundreds killed last night, the children writing their names on the palms of their hands, and the mothers giving birth in the street as their homes are destroyed and their hospitals damaged, can the Foreign Secretary update the House on the action being taken with international partners now to ensure that hospitals and medical staff are being protected, given that he said earlier today that he was not sure of the situation relating to hospitals? It is estimated that there are 50,000 mothers in Gaza, including pregnant mothers. Will the Foreign Secretary update us on whether there is a plan for their healthcare, and on whether he is confident that that is being dealt with and urgently needed medical and humanitarian supplies are getting through?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

As I said earlier, in a fast-evolving situation during a conflict such as this, it is extremely difficult to conduct an up-to-date assessment of the ability of medical facilities in Gaza to maintain operations. We do of course want civilians and civilian infrastructure to be protected wherever possible, and we have communicated that to Israel, but let me say again that protecting them is made infinitely more difficult in these circumstances, because Hamas and other terrorist organisations specifically embed themselves in civilian infrastructure. That is a long-standing habit of such organisations.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (COP26), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Commons Business)

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s recognition of the need to exercise caution before leaping to conclusions, given the difficulty of verifying information in situations of crisis, but will he commit himself to personally making contact with different social media and technology companies, urging them directly to help prevent the spread of disinformation and prevent any information war relating to this horrific situation?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I will not commit myself to doing that personally, but I know that the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport takes this issue extremely seriously. We are, of course, taking action to try to improve professionalism on social media platforms, and while I personally will not be making that contact directly, I know that it is being done, and will continue to be done, by the Government.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Shadow Minister (Flooding, Oceans and Coastal Communities)

At this tragic time, I am driven by my desire for peace and the protection of innocents. While this tragic war continues, will the Foreign Secretary do everything he can to ensure that international law is followed? That, of course, includes the protection of hospitals, medical professionals, civilians and humanitarian aid for Gaza. However, this war will only end through dialogue, so will the Foreign Secretary also do everything he can to keep the flame of hope for a negotiated peace settlement alive? Will he make that a priority for his Government, even when, at times, it seems such a very distant hope?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The hon. Lady is entirely right about the need for us not to lose our desire to bring genuine, sustainable peace. As I have said, in these particularly difficult times that may seem a very far-off and, indeed, impossible aspiration, but we will remain relentlessly focused on bringing a lasting, sustainable peace to the Israeli and the Palestinian people, and indeed to the wider region. I can give the hon. Lady the assurance that while dealing with the immediate challenges, we will also keep that long-term aspiration at the forefront of our minds.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Independent, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

Will the British Government support Brazil’s motion calling for a humanitarian ceasefire, on which the UN Security Council will vote later today? If not, what are the grounds for not supporting it, given that the Brazilian text includes criticism of Hamas whereas the Russian text debated on Monday did not? If Hamas refuse to honour the ceasefire, as the Foreign Secretary fears, will they not be seen by the eyes of the world as not protecting the people whom they purport to represent?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I have spoken to the Brazilian Foreign Minister about the text of the Security Council resolution, and we are liaising closely with the Brazilians and others, but I will not be able to give a commitment on our voting decision until the text is closed and the negotiations have been concluded.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

When I visited Israel and Palestine three weeks ago with a group of MPs, we met aid workers and health workers who say their last goodbyes to their families every morning because they do not know whether they will return. There is an urgent need to support them, and the UK public are being very generous in response to appeals. In the absence of humanitarian corridors—and I support him in arguing for them—can the Foreign Secretary update the House on efforts to work with UK-based agencies that are on the ground in Gaza to support the provision of mobile health clinics, medicines, food and water there?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The distribution plan for the initial £10 million that the Prime Minister announced on Monday is still being worked on, but I can assure the hon. Lady that we are have very close relationships with non-governmental organisations and aid organisations based in the UK and operating in Gaza and the region. We will of course be liaising with them both in terms of getting an updated understanding of the situation on the ground and of maximising our support to the Palestinian people.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East

The most urgent priority must be to prevent the loss of any more civilian lives. To do so, the UN General Secretary has called for an immediate ceasefire. Leading humanitarian agencies such as Oxfam have also called for that. Surely the Government must add their voice to that. Does the Foreign Secretary accept that, if they do not, many thousands more will die? Will he also withdraw his earlier remark that what is going on is not forced relocation? If he does not, I believe that he will come to regret that remark.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Of course all of us want to see an end to the lives that have been lost, but we also recognise that Israel feels the need to take action to protect the lives of its citizens from the attacks emanating from Hamas and other terrorist organisations in Gaza. We have always said that, in our support for that activity, we call upon it to abide by humanitarian law, as its President has committed to doing.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

We need swift confirmation of who is responsible for the devastating attack on the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, but the immediate priority is humanitarian support for those affected. The £10 million pledged by the UK Government is genuinely welcome, but can the Foreign Secretary explain how that aid is going to get to those affected, when Israel has closed all humanitarian corridors?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The situation at the moment is that all humanitarian support going into Gaza is severely limited. There was an open, fluid border between Israel and Gaza, and tens of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza—tens of thousands of Gazans—worked in Israel daily and moved to and fro between Gaza and Israel. That crossing had to be closed, as did the Rafah crossing into Egypt, in response to the terrorist attacks that were perpetrated against Israel. We are working with the Israeli Government, the Egyptian Government and the international community to try to open up humanitarian corridors and we will continue to do so.

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Opposition Whip (Commons)

The level of conflicting information and indeed disinformation coming from Gaza, and the irresponsible reporting of this as fact, including that coming from the BBC yesterday, is surely something that we should be condemning. What are the Foreign Secretary and his Department doing to correct this approach from broadcasters? Will he join me in saying the blame should not be cast until all the facts are known, especially to avoid inflaming tensions both here and in the middle east?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

This applies to us all, and particularly to broadcasters that have a high level of international standing. I am a big fan of the BBC and I know the huge influence that the voice of the BBC has internationally. Because of that influence, it is incredibly important that the BBC and other broadcasters are very careful in the reporting of this issue, because of the sensitivity and because of the implications not just in the region itself but here in the UK. That is a general plea to all broadcasters.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

I represent a significant number of Jewish and Muslim constituents, many of whom have links to Israel and Palestine. My constituents are devastated and deeply concerned about the innocent civilians caught up in this horror and worried about the implications closer to home. The sights that we have seen overnight are horrifying. I will not ask the Foreign Secretary for facts that he does not yet have, but we saw this human tragedy unfold further overnight, so I am asking for clear assurances on deliverable humanitarian aid now. It is reasonable that we ask him to look as hard as possible at a ceasefire, which would of course apply to all parties, because the innocent civilians in the region have to be our immediate priority. Can he also comment on the need for urgent international work towards a peaceful long-term solution for the region? The Israeli and Palestinian people deserve a bit more of a refocus on their long-term peace.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The hon. Lady speaks with great passion, which I know is genuine. When I was first appointed to the then Foreign and Commonwealth Office in February 2020, I was the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, and I can assure her that I have been personally focused on trying to find a resolution to this long-standing and painful issue the entire time I have been a Minister in the foreign service. I can assure her that the Government remain focused on that long-term peaceful resolution to this terrible situation. I can also assure her that we want to see the money that we have allocated actually turned into humanitarian support for the Palestinian people. That of course means having humanitarian access, but that is not happening at the moment. We will continue to use all our diplomatic effort to try to unlock those humanitarian access routes.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

Residents in Walthamstow are mourning the loss of all civilian lives in this conflict. It is very personal to them. Rania and Sharone are two Walthamstow residents. Sharone is here at the moment meeting the Prime Minister about her parents who have been kidnapped by Hamas. Rania and seven members of her family are stuck in Gaza trying desperately to get out. I want to put on record our thanks to the Foreign Secretary and his officers for what they have done so far, but Sharone desperately needs help to get more information, from whatever parties or third-party agencies, about her parents and the medical welfare, and Rania is desperate to get her family back home to us in Walthamstow, but there is misinformation on the ground as well. Has the Foreign Secretary also considered whether the Kerem Shalom border could be looked at as one way to get humanitarian aid into Gaza to help those affected by this crisis and to bring our people home?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I want to commend the work of our consular team that is dealing with families who are suffering loss, who are grieving and who are deeply fearful for the welfare of their families and loved ones overseas. I know that the hon. Lady and other hon. and right hon. Members will have constituents who are deeply fearful about what is going on. I would urge them all to use the consular contact details that have been provided, and I am more than happy to make sure that they are circulated to anyone who does not have them. We maintain contact with all those families who have got in contact with us and we try to maintain contact with those British nationals who are currently stuck in Gaza. I can give the hon. Lady and the House an absolute assurance that we will not rest and we will not step back from our duty to support British nationals overseas.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I have had many hundreds of emails over the past few days from constituents who are deeply distressed at the ongoing loss of human life in the middle east. I have been moved by the stories from many of the medical professionals on the ground in Gaza who have not only run out of medical supplies, including painkillers, but have no water with which to carry out their job. When can they expect to receive those essential items?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The hon. Lady asks a pertinent and important question. At this stage, I am not able to give her any credible assurances on the timescales around this. Obviously, we are working with the international community and the countries in the region to try to get humanitarian access. We have set aside the money, as the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s questions earlier today, and we have forward-loaded some of our experts to ensure that any opportunity to provide humanitarian support can be utilised at very short notice, but the truth is that I am not able to give her assurances on timescales.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission

The House is grateful to the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues for being here for an hour and a half. There are a great many questions to be asked, and I am glad that today everybody who wished to ask questions on behalf of their constituents has had the opportunity to do so. Let nobody doubt the fact that every Member of this House thinks this is a most serious and sad situation.