Gaza: Humanitarian Situation

– in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 4 December 2023.

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Photo of Lisa Nandy Lisa Nandy Shadow Minister (International Development) 3:32, 4 December 2023

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State to make a statement regarding the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

A tragedy is unfolding in the middle east. Israel has suffered the worst terror attack in its history, and Palestinian civilians are experiencing a devastating and growing humanitarian crisis. As the Foreign Secretary made clear, last week’s agreement was a crucial step towards providing relief to the families of the hostages and addressing the humanitarian emergency in Gaza. This pause has provided an opportunity to ensure that much greater volumes of food, fuel and other lifesaving aid can enter Gaza.

On 24 November, the British Government announced a further £30 million-worth of humanitarian assistance, tripling our existing aid budget for the Occupied Palestinian Territories this financial year and bringing it to a total of £60 million. During the pause, the fourth UK aircraft, carrying 23 tonnes of humanitarian aid for Gaza, arrived in Egypt, bringing the total amount of UK humanitarian aid provided by British aircraft to 74 tonnes. That aid is now being dispersed to the United Nations to support critical food, water, health, shelter and protection needs in Gaza, and to pre-position emergency supplies in the region. We are also actively exploring other aid routes, including by sea.

The pause that ended last week was a crucial step towards providing relief to the families of the hostages and addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We have said repeatedly that we would like to see an extension. UK humanitarian funding will continue to support trusted partners to provide humanitarian assistance, and negotiate humanitarian access, in Gaza. The UK will continue, in conjunction with our international partners, to advocate internationally on humanitarian priorities. These include respect for international humanitarian law, the need for fuel, humanitarian access, humanitarian pauses and an increase in the types of assistance. We are urgently exploring all diplomatic options to increase that, including urging Israel to open other existing land borders, such as Kerem Shalom.

We welcome the intensive international co-operation, including efforts from Qatar and the USA, which led to the agreement, and we thank partners for their continued work. We remain committed to making progress towards a two-state solution.

Britain’s long-standing position on the middle east peace process is clear: we support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. The UK will continue to work with all partners in the region to reach a long-term political solution that enables both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace.

Photo of Lisa Nandy Lisa Nandy Shadow Minister (International Development)

Given recent events, it is surprising and regrettable that neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Secretary is making a statement today. The reality is that this conflict has sadly reached another phase, and many more innocent lives will be lost if we do not act now. We urge the Government to continue to push for another cessation of hostilities and for all remaining hostages to be freed. To be clear, Israel must not besiege or blockade Gaza. It must comply with international law and protect innocent lives and civilian infrastructure, and ensure that attempts to address the humanitarian catastrophe are ramped up quickly.

In the last few days, partners on the ground have become increasingly concerned about the safe zone at al-Mawasi, with reports suggesting that aid is not reaching those who are there. Have the Government held talks with Israel and others to ensure that it does, and to seek assurances that Palestinians who fled there not will not be moved further still? The Minister will know that that is a key concern of Arab states. Shelters are severely overcrowded, dysentery is spreading, and the risk of cholera is now significant. That must be mitigated now. Is there is serious plan to deal with sewage and to distribute medicine and vaccines? It is winter in Gaza, where nearly 2 million people are displaced; many are in tents or in the open air. I urge the Minister again to follow the US’s lead and appoint a humanitarian co-ordinator to get the trucks moving more quickly, to get fuel in and to work towards the opening of Karem Shalom.

The UK and partners must redouble efforts towards an enduring cessation of hostilities and a lasting political solution. Israel must be assured that Hamas cannot carry out an attack like 7 October ever again. But, to build a lasting peace, we must assure a generation of Palestinians that there is hope: that they, their children and their grandchildren can expect the security and opportunity that is their right, with a plan for children both to prevent their deaths and to prioritise their lives, and a clear message that there can be no reoccupation or reduction of Gazan territory and that those displaced have the right to return home.

I urge the Government to play their part in ending the illegal settlements and settler violence in the west bank and to create a plan for the reconstruction and renewal of Gaza. We must do more without delay to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in front of us as we simultaneously work towards a better future. Many more lives will be lost if we do not act now.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I am grateful for my counterpart’s constructive tone. We are in agreement: we are pushing for a further pause, which we regard as imperative. The success, as it were, of the last one showed the utility of a pause in terms of the increased flow of humanitarian support, and we continue to strain every sinew in our diplomacy to aim for that. The Foreign Secretary made that argument to his various ministerial colleagues last week and will continue to do that with his counterpart and ministerial counterparts right across the middle east.

The hon. Member mentioned the safe zone. We continue to monitor that, and officials in the region are seeing how it unfolds with regard to the humanitarian impact. She is right to draw the House’s attention to the grievous humanitarian impact of disease. We are confident that channelling our funds through the UN agencies—the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs and UNICEF—is the right way to go about that, but the scale of increase of need is hugely alarming, and we are painfully aware that women and children often bear the most unfortunate brunt of such impacts. I assure her that we are redoubling efforts. Clearly, our financial contribution has tripled, but that goes in hand with our political efforts, because it is only through a lasting peace, which she referred to, that this will be resolved.

The humanitarian component is of utmost urgency, but we must not forget the political component, which runs in tandem. Our stance on the illegal settlements in the west bank and our long-standing support for a sustainable solution with Palestinian statehood at the heart of the region’s future are undiminished. In addition to our humanitarian efforts, in our political and diplomatic efforts we will continue to argue for Palestinian statehood as the seed for a long-term solution in the region.

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

The House will welcome the bipartisan support for what the British Government are trying to do. Most of us know that our direct power in the area ended more than 70 years ago. I put to those who want a simple ceasefire that a permanent end to violence would be helped by people around Israel recognising its international boundaries, and by Israel ensuring that it could withdraw to its own boundaries and stop the aggressive settler activity outside its own areas in the west bank.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The Father of the House makes a good point. A two-state solution in which both sides respect the other’s right to exist and in which there is an end to settler violence is an essential precondition to any long-term peace in the region.

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

Exactly as it said it would at the end of the humanitarian pause, Israel has resumed its offensive in Gaza with full force, including an appalling attack on the Médecins Sans Frontières aid convoy. Official figures estimate that 1,000 Palestinians were killed this weekend alone. A massive cull of innocent civilians is taking place right now. It is blatantly obvious that all appeals made by the UK Government and others for Israel to avoid civilian casualties are being ignored. I wonder just how much this Government regret giving Netanyahu that blank cheque, particularly as millions of displaced people are being squeezed into a wasteland on the Egyptian border and the indiscriminate bombing continues. At the weekend, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, echoed Scotland’s First Minister, saying:

“The solution can only be political” and “centred on two states.” And he is correct. What is holding the UK Government back from officially recognising the state of Palestine, as a fundamental first step to achieving a long-term solution to this awful crisis?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s contribution. We are painfully aware of the tragic and significant human impact of the miliary operation, especially with regards to civilian casualties. But the issue should not be simplified to the degree where we forget that Hamas are a terrorist group that are prosecuting atrocities. We must see the civilian casualties as a product of the terrible conflict resulting from Hamas terrorist atrocity of 7 October. We continue to argue very strongly to Israel that military operations must be conducted according to humanitarian law, avoiding civilian casualties. On the two-state solution, one of the major obstacles is Hamas—a terrorist group committed to the destruction of Israel. If Hamas were in charge, there would be no two-state solution. A necessary prerequisite is the evolution of a better form of Palestinian leadership in Gaza.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

If the RAF can fly surveillance planes over the Gaza strip in the much-needed search for hostages and to help their release, what is to stop us from flying cargo planes over and parachuting food and medicines to a starving population?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My right hon. Friend will have heard in my opening statement that a very significant amount of humanitarian aid—74 tonnes—has been delivered via UK aircraft. We are redoubling our efforts. Greater utility lies in assessing whether there can be a maritime route to increase humanitarian supplies.

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

I welcome the responses the Minister is giving, but I want to hear the Foreign Secretary’s response. On 16 November, we had a harrowing session with the humanitarian organisations on the ground in Gaza. We wrote to the Foreign Secretary, but have not had a reply. We have not had a reply either about when he will come in front of our Committee. With such a horrific and fast-moving situation in Israel and Gaza, when can this House expect to hear from the Foreign Secretary?

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)

The idea that settlements are the reason there is not a two-state solution is just complete and utter tosh. The reason there is not a two-state solution is that Hamas seek the total genocide and ethnic cleansing of the state of Israel. They seek to murder every single Jew. They used the most awful sexual violence against women on 7 October, some reports of which we read in shocking detail in The Times this weekend. There has not been a word from either Dispatch Box so far about the information on the abuse of the hostages who have been released, or a condemnation of the violence. That is why there has not been a two-state solution. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will continue to stay strong and support Israel in all its activities to root out this murderous terrorist cult?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I do not know if my hon. Friend heard my previous answer, in which I said that a principal blockage to a two-state solution were Hamas themselves. They are a terrorist group who have committed the most heinous terrorist acts. We therefore continue to be supportive of Israel’s defending its people and its security.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Labour, Exeter

Palestinians have lost all hope of a two-state solution thanks to the policies of the Netanyahu Government in recent years. Would it not give them some hope if we followed other countries’ lead and honoured the vote taken in this House nine years ago to recognise Palestinian statehood?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Our efforts are focused on a more pragmatic avenue, working with allies in the region to ensure there is sustainable and more meaningful support right across the region for a two-state solution.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

If the Government accept that there can be no political solution unless Hamas are removed from control in Gaza, can the Minister explain to us who exactly will remove Hamas from that level of control in Gaza?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The political future of the Palestinians is a matter for Palestinians.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I would like to start by agreeing with Andrew Percy, who spoke about the rightful condemnation of the genocidal words from Hamas. These are the extremes of the debate, and on the other side of these extremes are Ministers in the Israeli Government who are calling for the dropping of a nuclear bomb on Gaza, and calling the siege of Gaza and the spread of epidemics a good thing. Those extremes do not represent where the majority of Palestinians, Israelis and the population across the world want to be, which is with this Government on two states. My question is simple: two states is all very well to say, but in terms of resources what is the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office actually doing to make it happen?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Our considerable resource, by way of humanitarian aid and political and diplomatic effort, is entirely focused on that. We bring a considerable diplomatic heft in our relationships across the region, and we are an important and permanent member of the UN Security Council, so we must not underestimate our ability to bring positive political leverage to this situation. That is something we are resolutely focused on.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

Over the weekend, The Times carried chilling testimony of Hamas’s extreme violence against women on 7 October: gang rape, women found with bloodied underwear, broken bones from rape, beheading, and women found with gunshots to their private parts. What Israeli women hostages held in Hamas captivity have endured, and may still be enduring now, does not bear thinking about. Will my hon. Friend join me in condemning those appalling acts of violence and this aspect of the ongoing humanitarian situation? Does he acknowledge that Hamas terrorists in custody have spoken quite openly about their orders to rape and defile women?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that these are deeply shocking reports. They are sadly, and very painfully, characteristic of the kind of terrorist violence that we have come to expect from Hamas, and we deeply condemn them.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Shadow Minister (Investment and Small Business)

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Qatar with a parliamentary delegation. We met Dr al-Ansari, one of the official spokespersons, with Egypt, the US, Israel and others, involved in the negotiations to release hostages and secure the temporary humanitarian truce. It was clear that this was a fragile truce that required greater pressure from the international community on all relevant parties—from middle east countries such as Qatar on Hamas, and from the US and the UK on the Israelis—to bring an end to this bloodshed. What are our Government doing, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a G7 nation, to ensure that work is done to bring an end to the bloodshed and secure a permanent ceasefire? That is what people of all backgrounds and communities need. We need a peacebuilding process; we need our Government to act. What are our Government doing?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We continue to use all levers at our disposal to argue for another humanitarian pause. Regrettably, it seems that discussion of a ceasefire is premature, given that Hamas are committed to the destruction of the state of Israel. We are resolutely committed to another humanitarian pause, and we are using all means that are available to us to argue for it.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

May I remind the Minister of the Prime Minister’s words at Mansion House? He said that the UK will

“act to shape the world, not be shaped by it”.

I raise that with the Minister with regard to the loss of life that we have seen across the board. We have to do everything we can to preserve human lives. I supported humanitarian pauses to do that at a very early stage, but the time has come for the UK to take a lead at the UN as a member of the Security Council. Lead at the Security Council; call for a ceasefire with regards—[Interruption.] We all have our own views on this matter. I have supported humanitarian pauses before, but the time has come for the UK to work towards a ceasefire, the release of all the hostages, humanitarian assistance and a political solution in line with our own Security Council resolution 242 and the 1967 borders. When will we push that at the Security Council and lead the world on this matter?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We are continuing to shape the outcome, and for us the most pragmatic and useful outcome at the moment is a further humanitarian pause, which we are arguing for strongly.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

If every humanitarian pause is simply a prelude to the further bombing of Gaza by Israel, what will be left other than a refugee camp and a wasteland, and who does the Minister think will govern that?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Member makes a good point. Of course, every civilian death is a tragedy, and the House is painfully aware of the human cost of the unfolding tragedy. As I said, aside from military operations, the political future and the way that Palestinians represent themselves is a question for Palestinians.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

I welcome the Government’s support for the extension of the humanitarian pauses, so that more aid can get into Gaza and more lives can be saved. May I ask the Minister about post-conflict governance in Gaza? Fatah are not Hamas, and Hamas are not Fatah, clearly—by definition. Fatah are marginally better in the eyes of some Palestinians, but when they have gone to the ballot box, the Palestinians have not voted for Fatah; they have voted for others. I notice that there have been a lot of high-level diplomatic visits to the senior leadership of Fatah. May I encourage the Government to perhaps look more widely at who might form the Government of Gaza in the future, so that the UK does not repeat the mistakes of the past and Fatah do not return to office only to be thrown out years later and perhaps replaced by a new Hamas?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

It would be easy for us to prejudge and second-guess political outcomes in the west bank or indeed in Gaza, but we will not do that. What we would seek post-conflict is a democratic renaissance of the ability of Palestinians to represent themselves and govern themselves responsibly, and we must not prejudge or second-guess that.

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

Like many other Members, I have constituents who are British citizens and whose families are trapped in Gaza and desperate for humanitarian visas. One constituent who wrote to me at the weekend said that her 79-year-old mother had been displaced nine times and was now in Rafah. She and her brothers and sisters, who are British citizens and senior professionals, say that they do not want state funds because they can support their family, but surely they can bring their family—my constituent’s 79-year-old mother, her sister and her sister’s six-month-old baby—to the United Kingdom in order to look after them. What can I tell these people about humanitarian visas, and will the Minister lean on the Home Office to address the question of issuing humanitarian visas?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I note the hon. and learned Lady’s question with interest. Given that she has cited a specific case—that of her constituent with links to Rafah—we can pursue it individually if she furnishes us with the details.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

With the humanitarian pause now closed, the nightmare is back for the remaining hostages and their families, for the Palestinians in desperate need of aid, and also for all citizens on both sides who are fearful of what falls from the skies. However, with no timeline and no clear plan, the next chapter is likely to be darker and more deadly. Does my hon. Friend agree that Israel will not, indeed cannot, resolve the humanitarian, governance and security issues alone? The international community has a vital role to play, not least to avoid escalation, so would the UK consider co-hosting an international summit with the United States and other stakeholders to begin the discussions that will start to resolve the bigger issues?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The international dimension is critical, and what is not in doubt is our ability and our intent to use our international diplomatic network and our connections across the region—because the regional approach is hugely important in this context. We will endeavour to use our connections throughout the Gulf states and the rest of the middle east, and internationally, to seek a just and long-term solution.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

What I want, what my constituents want and what the whole country wants is to stop killing children, stop killing civilians. They do not know who is the best person or group of people to do that, but for God’s sake, someone stop this killing of children.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The images we have seen of civilian deaths have of course been acutely painful. We continue to use our relationship with Israel to ensure that it is restrained in terms of its application of force, and we are also forthright in our absolute condemnation of the terrorist atrocity perpetrated by Hamas and the grotesque effect that it has had on Israelis of all ages.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Despite the humanitarian pause, the majority—137 hostages—are still held by the terrorists in Gaza. Of those, two are children, 10 are over 75 and 20 are female, and there are 11 foreign nationals. Clearly the negotiations with these terrorists broke down over the weekend, so what action is the FCDO taking to ensure that the hostages are freed and returned to their families?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

That is at the front and centre of our diplomatic effort internationally. Obviously there is a complex web of negotiation effort on which I will not comment in detail, but we are painfully conscious of the need to exert all our institutional effort to bring those people home safely.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Education)

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is unspeakable, with 1.8 million people now displaced, 33,000 injured—and the number of hospital beds down to about 1,400 and dropping—and more than 15,000 dead. My constituent Noura has lost her brother and nephew, who were blown up in their home after they went back when they thought it was safe to do so. Her sister-in-law has lost her limbs, and two other children are in hospital in intensive care.

I need to ask the Minister these questions. What is the plan for humanitarian visas? What is the plan for safe zones, and how serious is it? What is the plan for people who have lost their homes, their family members, and their limbs? What is the plan, seriously, to work with international allies towards a permanent ceasefire, the release of hostages, and a proper political solution?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Lady makes a good point about the impact on hospitals. That is why we have tripled our aid. We are focused on channelling it through the UN agencies that can most effectively help people in hospitals, whether by the provision of fuel or other supplies. That is the groundwork that we hope will eventually unlock the political phase to improve the solution. It is humanitarian first, with the politics in tandem, which we are also doing.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous The Second Church Estates Commissioner, The Second Church Estates Commissioner

The sexual violence meted out by Hamas on 7 October was horrendous. In the second half of last month, a number of Members on both sides of the House received details passed on by a doctor in Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, who said that three of his children and three of his grandchildren were among the 45 men, women and children in his house who had all been destroyed that afternoon while he was working a hospital shift. We are piling misery on misery, so as one former infantry soldier to another, I ask my hon. Friend to make sure that the British Government renew their plea for the greatest possible precision in pursuit of the terrorists so that we do not lose more civilian lives in that way.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My hon. Friend speaks with experience and knowledge, and we are making exactly those pleas to our Israeli colleagues.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Eight weeks after the unjustifiable murder of Jewish people in Israel and the countless rapes of Israeli and Jewish women, is the Minister disappointed that the United Nations women’s group made the most facile and mealy-mouthed statement that did not even use the word “rape” in describing what had happened? Will he use his and the Government’s influence to draw to the attention of the United Nations the importance of getting on side on this issue and condemning sexual violence against women and the rape of women? Just because they are Jews does not mean that they do not matter, and that point should be made to the United Nations over and over again.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Of course these reports are shocking and we certainly condemn it. Rape is rape, and we must call it out.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

The more details we learn of the barbaric attacks of 7 October and the treatment of the victims, especially the women, the more horrific it becomes. One can only imagine the sheer anguish that the families of the victims go through on a daily basis as more information comes out, so can my hon. Friend tell me what humanitarian support is being provided to the families of the victims of Hamas?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

That is a terribly good question. A large proportion of our tripled humanitarian aid budget of £60 million will be channelled through UNICEF and the other two UN agencies, UNRWA and OCHA, and a large proportion of it will support women affected by conflict.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I am sorry, but I must press the Minister because I do not feel that he has answered the question on what the Government’s strategy is, particularly the political strategy. We all feel this so strongly: no child should ever be the target of a terrorist or in any conflict, so what is the Government’s political strategy to protect the lives of children?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough

I welcome the Minister’s growing success in getting aid into Gaza and the tripling of UK aid, but even as he works urgently to get aid to the neediest civilians of Gaza in the shortest possible time, will the Government redouble their efforts to bring about a diplomatic solution, perhaps using a contact group, in order that we can grow the humanitarian pauses into a just and lasting peace and a two-state solution?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

That is exactly our strategy. It is to use diplomatic efforts in concert with humanitarian efforts to bring about a situation whereby diplomacy can take effect and the foundations can be laid of a long-term peace. We are clearly not there yet, and it will require a huge amount of diplomatic effort right across the region and a close relationship with many parties. That is something to which we can bring a great deal of expertise and utility.

Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Labour, Bradford West

What actions have the Government implemented to integrate their approach to preventing atrocities into the UK’s foreign and development policy? How have they involved the Office for Conflict, Stabilisation and Mediation’s mass atrocity prevention hub in risk assessing Israel’s actions in Gaza?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Those issues are woven into the fabric of our diplomacy, and they are hugely important in all our work across the middle east, and nowhere more so than the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

The Committee to Protect Journalists has said that 57 Palestinian journalists have been killed in the Gaza strip since 7 October. It says this is the worst period for the killing of journalists since it started keeping records in 1992. Does that not illustrate the wholly indiscriminate nature of what is being done by the Israel Defence Forces? Will the Minister impress upon the Netanyahu Government the complete unacceptability of this situation?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s description of it being “wholly indiscriminate”, but of course I take seriously his comment about 57 journalists having been killed. That is tragic, but I take issue with his characterisation of it being “wholly indiscriminate”. Of course we make representations to Israel to constrain and focus its operations, and we will continue to do so.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Like so many Members, I again received hundreds of emails this weekend from my constituents who are appalled and horrified at the continuing killing of innocent Palestinian men, women and children. They want the killing to stop, so will the Minister condemn the acts of violence and extremism by Israeli settlers in the west bank and call on the Israeli authorities to prevent settler violence, to ensure accountability for perpetrators and to condemn extremist rhetoric?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

This Government are on record—I said it in my statement—in condemning settler violence in the west bank, but we must be very clear that this military operation is under way in Gaza because of the terrorist atrocity carried out by Hamas on 7 October. That is the terrible and tragic truth.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

Over 15,000 civilians have now been killed in Gaza, and Israel’s military operations have not abated following the pause in fighting. What specific requests are the Government making to their Israeli counterparts to stop the killing? When the Minister says a ceasefire is “premature”, it sounds like a tacit acceptance that the disproportionate and indiscriminate destruction of civilian areas is a legitimate means of Israel pursuing its war aims.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

A ceasefire would only be possible if Hamas had not stated their intent to wipe Israel off the map and to perpetrate another atrocity of the nature of 7 October. We are arguing for a humanitarian pause to allow de-escalation and the further flow of humanitarian aid.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Opposition Whip (Commons)

I echo the calls for a long-term political solution to this dreadful conflict, and for an end to the international community, including this Government, consigning it to the “too difficult” pile. In the absence of the permanent ceasefire that I am sure we all want to see, does the Minister recognise, and will he reinforce, the warnings from the United States and others that Israel’s actions in Gaza must be proportionate, otherwise they are in clear breach of international law, as the comprehensive evidence from multiple agencies working on the ground in Gaza strongly suggests? I am sure he cares deeply about humanitarian issues, so will he join me in saying that sending texts or QR codes to advise people to evacuate a war zone, when there is no internet and no power to charge phones, is wholly inadequate and cannot protect civilians and save innocent lives?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We have called and continue to call on Israel to abide by international humanitarian law—that is not in doubt. Its military response must be proportionate, and we continue to argue strongly that it should show constraint in its pursuit of Hamas’s terrorist operatives embedded in the Gaza strip.

Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Labour, Poplar and Limehouse

On Friday, the hopes for a permanent ceasefire turned to despair with the continuation of the collective punishment and killing of Palestinian civilians, a large proportion of whom are women and children, in what the United Nations is calling “unprecedented” numbers. The Minister has just said that a ceasefire would be “premature”. Will he clarify whether there is any limit—any limit at all—on the number of Palestinian civilians that this Government support killing before calling for a permanent ceasefire? Will he explain what he understands to be the long-term plan for Gaza and how that plan is in keeping with international law?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Regrettably, Hamas do not want a ceasefire. It would be good if that were the case, but it is not. They are a terrorist group committed to the destruction of Israel and they are on record stating their desire to perpetrate another atrocity on the scale of 7 October. While that is a fact, the inevitable consequence is an Israeli military response. We support Israel’s right to protect its sovereignty, but we implore it to show constraint and avoid civilian casualties. Attendant to that, we will argue for a further humanitarian pause to allow humanitarian aid to flow.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

Israel is clearly undertaking an act of cleansing of the entire population of Gaza. It is illegal in international law and in no way is it a proportionate response to the appalling events of 7 October. What does the Minister think is Israel’s long-term objective? Is it to expel the entire population of Gaza into Egypt? What is the role, purpose and military objective of British military participation in the whole area? Can he assure us that there are no British soldiers on the ground in Gaza?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

It will be no surprise that I do not share the right hon. Gentleman’s assessment or view of the context. It is clear that Israel’s objective is to defend itself against the terrorist group of Hamas.

Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Labour, Sunderland Central

In an earlier answer, the Minister said that the British Government are “forthright” in their condemnation of the atrocities of 7 October, which everyone agrees with. When will the British Government be forthright in their condemnation of the murder of innocent Palestinian children? Some 15,000 people have died so far. At the start of the conflict, half the Gazan population were children. When will the British Government call that out and say enough is enough?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We continue to argue for constraint, restraint and the application of military power according to humanitarian law.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Jason Lee, Save the Children’s country director for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, has just returned from a five-day trip to Gaza. He writes:

“A young child might not understand what is happening, but they see the destruction around them. They see when their homes, schools and communities are destroyed. They hear everything that is happening around them, the air strikes, the cries for help. And they feel the terror, the insecurity and the helplessness.”

Many right hon. and hon. Members have raised the issue of innocent children, who have no part in what is going on, being killed. We cannot watch while that continues. Does the Minister agree that working towards a definitive ceasefire is the only way to a sustainable peace in the region?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Lady makes a painful allusion to the view of Save the Children; a large proportion of our increased aid budget is going to UNICEF to support children who have been affected. We would all like a de-escalation and ceasefire, but while Hamas remain intent on perpetrating another atrocity, like the one on 7 October, it is hard to see how there can be any other response than the military response of Israel defending its sovereignty.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has issued a call for evidence regarding possible breaches of international humanitarian law in Israel and Palestine. Is the UK Government in a position to contribute—indeed, will it be contributing—to that investigation?

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Labour, Bradford East

Blackened by mould, eaten by worms, and mauled by stray dogs. That was the fate of four premature babies who medical staff were forced to leave behind after being forced by the Israeli military to evacuate al-Nasr Hospital in just 30 minutes. What was the crime of those four vulnerable premature babies, who were left to an unimaginable fate, and just how does the Minister plan on telling me that a humanitarian pause helped them when a ceasefire would have saved them?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Gentleman talks painfully about the humanitarian impact. Of course, the tragedy is that Hamas do not want a ceasefire, and therefore the conflict will surely continue.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I accept that Hamas are a terrorist organisation and their infrastructure needs to be dismantled so that they cannot commit any more atrocities, but that does not justify the unrelenting bombing that we saw return to Gaza over the weekend. Have the Government satisfied themselves that Israeli bombing is precision bombing against terrorist targets, and if they have not been able to satisfy themselves of that, why are they not calling for a ceasefire?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We have argued, and will continue to argue, for restraint. The whole House will share the anguish that the hon. Gentleman expresses about the humanitarian and human impact. We continue to make the argument to Israel that it must be restrained and it must follow international humanitarian law.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East

The UN Secretary-General recently said:

“We are witnessing a killing of civilians that is unparalleled and unprecedented in any conflict since I have been Secretary-General.”

Over 16,000 Palestinians are dead, 70% of them women and children. Hospitals are being flooded by an influx of dead bodies. Over 41,000 people have been injured, 84,000 have diarrhoea, and 100,000 have acute respiratory distress syndrome. Thousands of people are trapped under the rubble, and 80% of the Gazan population is now internally displaced. There are bombs everywhere in Gaza. There is no safe place for these people to go to, so when will the Government ask for a definitive ceasefire and allow access for humanitarian aid?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Lady paints a moving picture of the terrible human cost. That is why we will continue to call, with renewed effort, for a humanitarian pause so that a greater degree of aid can flow.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

I am a strong advocate of a full and proper ceasefire as a prelude to a wider political process. However, work has to be done to create the conditions for a ceasefire, including the potential provision of security guarantees. What plans do the Government have to discuss with their international partners the creation of some form of peacekeeping or monitoring presence, either on the basis of the United Nations or some form of ad hoc arrangement, including in particular the Arab states, in order to provide some form of confidence-building measures?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. We are certainly using our regional network of diplomacy and diplomatic presence to discuss regional solutions that may involve other Arab states, because the political settlement will depend on long-term and sustainable regional support, whatever the outcome might be.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Exports)

I want to see an end to the violence in Gaza, which is what I recently voted for, along with Labour colleagues. After the end of the fragile ceasefire last week, we desperately need the UK Government to work with international allies and push for peace, with the release of all hostages and an end to the killing of thousands of innocent Palestinians. As winter sets in, does the Minister share my concerns about a potential outbreak of cholera and other waterborne diseases, and the risk of starvation and dehydration? What steps are the Government taking to avert that ongoing crisis?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We are acutely aware of the manifold health risk in Gaza. That is why we have tripled our aid budget, a lot of which will be channelled through OCHA, UNICEF and UNRWA to attend to the risk posed by cholera and other diseases. We continue to push for peace, and a humanitarian pause would be the first step towards that.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley

On 30 October, the IDF’s evacuation order directed Gaza’s civilians southward, triggering mass internal displacement that the IDF said was for their own safety. On 1 December, the IDF ordered people to leave districts in Khan Yunis, where many had gone for their own safety, saying they were in a “dangerous combat zone”. Given that the IDF military action now stretches from Gaza City in the north to Rafah in the south, does the Minister agree with the UN’s Volker Türk that

“there is no safe place in Gaza”, and that only a permanent ceasefire can end this collective punishment of the Palestinians?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Lady makes a good point, but tragically the reason is that Hamas have often sought to embed themselves among civilian infrastructure, and as long as that is the case, tragedy will ensue. The solution is a de-escalation, the defeat of Hamas and, in the first instance, a humanitarian pause to improve humanitarian access.

Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Labour, St Helens South and Whiston

Allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law should always be treated with the utmost seriousness. Assessing specific allegations is the proper task of lawyers in competent international courts. Does the Minister recognise, with Labour, that the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction must address the conduct of all parties in Gaza?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We have long been on record as calling for all parties to abide by international humanitarian law.

Photo of Mohammad Yasin Mohammad Yasin Labour, Bedford

As the Israeli authorities are now bombing south Gaza—the very area they asked civilians to reach in order to be safe—does the Minister agree that the supply of arms to the Israeli Government must be suspended, given that serious violations amounting to crimes under international law are being committed?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We support, and are on record as supporting, Israel’s right to defend itself, and our relationship with Israel is in accordance with that. That does not mean that we do not at the same time argue for a de-escalation, a humanitarian pause and a return to peace.

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 United Nations Children’s Fund says that Gaza is the most dangerous place in the world to be a child. France has offered places in its hospitals to treat the most severely injured children. Will the Minister now make a similar offer to the injured children of Gaza?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We need to be supporting children; that is why a significant portion of our humanitarian aid, which we have tripled to £60 billion, will be channelled through UNICEF to attend to the needs of children affected.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Labour, Battersea

We know that more than 15,000 Palestinians have been killed, 70% of whom are women and children, and there are still thousands unaccounted for under the rubble. The events of the last two days demonstrate that a pause in fighting was never going to be sufficient. I ask the Minister what on earth it will take for his Government to call for a permanent ceasefire on all sides in order to prevent the bombardment of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure, including not only its hospitals and schools—or what is left of them—but its water facilities.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Lady is correct that the pause was not sufficient to meet all the humanitarian needs. That does not stop us arguing for a further pause, because of course that is the first step to a more sustainable path towards peace.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East

I must say that the Minister comes across as a passive observer while the further horror unfolds. I wish he would use his agency and his role, because 1.8 million people in Gaza have been forcibly displaced. People were told to go south to avoid the bombing, but now Israel is indiscriminately bombing areas there. The UN says that

“there is no safe place in Gaza.”

Above all, this is a war on children. How many more children have to die before the Government add their name to the growing list of countries around the world calling for an immediate and sustained ceasefire?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I would say gently to the hon. Gentleman that in actuality this is a war on Hamas.

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

Surely the events of the weekend have shown that a temporary pause or cessation of hostilities is just not enough, and that what we need is a permanent ceasefire, which is what many people, including the British public as a whole, want to see. They want to see the release of hostages and a sustainable, credible political process so that we have a safe and secure Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israeli state, but it has come across in the statement that the Government have absolutely no plan. How many UK citizens and UK visa holders are still awaiting evacuation from Gaza?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Lady says that one humanitarian pause is not enough. Of course it is not enough; that is why we are arguing for another. That is an important part of our sense of there being a long-term obligation on us all to argue for a sustainable and long-term two-state solution.

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Clean Power and Consumers)

Without a ceasefire or truce in place, there is no safe zone in Gaza. I have expressed concerns before about the inadequacy of Al-Mawasi as a safe zone without any infrastructure or ability to get aid to innocent civilians. Given that there seems to be no place for people to go and no hope for innocent civilians, does the Minister share my worry that the constant bombardment will drive the besieged people of Gaza into the arms of extremists, and what representations are the Government making to the Israeli Government to express those concerns?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Frankly, the solution would be for Hamas to come out of their tunnels and surrender so that Gaza can return to normality. That is what we hope might happen.

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Shadow Minister (Youth Justice)

I accept that Hamas are a terrorist organisation, but children, journalists, aid workers and innocent civilians have died and continue to be under threat in Gaza. There is now a potential outbreak of airborne and waterborne diseases. Surely it is now time for the UK Government to finally call for a ceasefire as they work towards the release of all hostages and a political peace process.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Lady makes a good point about disease. It is why a large portion of the tripled humanitarian fund of £60 million, channelled through the three UN agencies, will be focused on the prevention of contagious diseases.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Employment Rights and Protections)

We all want the killing to stop, and if we get to a point where there is an end to the violence on a long-term basis, what guarantees can we obtain from the UK Government that the many people who have been displaced will be allowed to return and that there will be sufficient infrastructure in place to ensure that they have something to return to?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about post-war reconstruction and the return of civilians. Of course, the UK will be at the heart of the international response that will attend to that.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

Madam Deputy Speaker:

“A night of utterly relentless bombardments”— the worst of the war so far. Those are the words of a UNICEF spokesperson this morning in Khan Yunis in the south of Gaza, where 1.8 million Palestinians are now trapped as Israeli bombs rain down on them. They were ordered to flee the north, and they are now being slaughtered in the south. Nowhere is safe in Gaza. As even UN experts warn of the grave risk of genocide, the UK Government continue to give their full support to Israel, calling for pauses in the slaughter but not a permanent ceasefire and an end to the slaughter. Is the Minister happy to be part of a Government so deeply complicit in the horrors being inflicted on the Palestinian people?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We continue to be forthright in our support for the absolute right of Israel to defend its people and its sovereignty. The tragedy that has unfolded following the Hamas terrorist abomination on 7 October of course brings pain to all sides, but we will continue to be forthright in our commitment to Israel’s security and, ultimately, I hope, to Palestinian statehood, in a long-term and sustainable peace in the middle east.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Nature and Rural Affairs)

Many of us absolutely recognise Israel’s right to defend itself, and that Hamas and their approach are a barrier to a lasting peace solution, but we also absolutely despair that the Government’s calls for restraint are being so ignored by the Israeli Government. Does the Minister agree that the international community needs to make it absolutely clear to every combatant in the conflict that the International Criminal Court is watching and people will be held to account for their conduct? His saying, “We call for humanitarian law to be followed” is simply not enough. People will be held to account for their conduct in this war.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Gentleman is stating the fact of the matter: international humanitarian law, which we expect all sides to follow, is there to be upheld.

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

The humanitarian situation is escalating; the disease burden is rising at such a pace that, without intervention, this will end up as a real humanitarian catastrophe. What discussions is the Minister having with the World Health Organisation and the UN to put in place what the aid agencies are calling for—a ceasefire—so that they can get on top on the disease burden across Gaza?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Lady makes a good point about the disease burden. We are arguing for an increased flow of humanitarian support and medical supplies, not just via land but maybe via a seaborne route, and we will continue to do so.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

So many of my constituents continue to ask me to press the Government regarding their actions towards securing a ceasefire and to help the suffering of innocent civilians in Gaza. To that end, what recent discussions has the Foreign Secretary held to urge Israel not to besiege or blockade Gaza, and to comply with international law and protect innocent lives?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The Foreign Secretary has been hugely active, engaging with many different nations. He was in Israel just some 10 days ago, making the point that we must ensure that the humanitarian impact of this conflict is constrained and limited.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

In Gaza, innocent Palestinians are facing an unimaginable nightmare—a humanitarian catastrophe, with thousands of civilians, including children, being killed. Further to his response to my hon. Friend Rachel Hopkins, can the Minister provide more detail about what the UK Government are doing to urge Israel not to besiege or blockade Gaza, and to comply with international law and protect innocent lives?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We are pointing out that all sides must abide by international humanitarian law, and that ultimately there cannot be a military solution to political problems in the middle east. Clearly, we hope that the terrorist group Hamas will not have a political role representing the Palestinian people, but de-escalation and peace must come first.