Israel and Palestine

– in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 8 January 2024.

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Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs 3:34, 8 January 2024

(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office if he will make a statement on the situation in Israel and Palestine.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

Let me begin by reiterating our fundamental belief in Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas. The events of 7 October were truly horrifying. Israel has a right to restore its security and to ensure that such horrifying events can never be repeated. We are also clear that too many civilians have been killed. Israel needs to ensure that its campaign is targeted on Hamas leaders and operatives, fulfils its obligations to protect civilians and is consistent with international humanitarian law.

No one wants to see this conflict go on for a moment longer than necessary. That is why the United Kingdom played a leading role in securing the passage of UN Security Council resolution 2720, which made clear the urgent demand for expanded humanitarian access. The resolution also called for the release of hostages and for steps towards a sustainable ceasefire, for which the British Government have consistently led calls.

Britain has been pushing a number of innovative and impactful approaches—especially, but not only, maritime delivery—to support aid for Gaza. We are focused on the bigger picture and longer-term strategic value. UK Ministers are lobbying the Government of Israel hard and regularly to allow more aid in and reduce the numerous constraints that are hindering many aspects of our and others’ efforts to help Gazan civilians. We have appointed Mark Bryson-Richardson as our representative for humanitarian affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Last week, a Royal Navy vessel delivered 87 tonnes of life-saving UK and Cypriot aid, destined for Gaza, into Egypt. We have also supported the United Nations World Food Programme to deliver a new humanitarian land corridor from Jordan into Gaza. Seven hundred and fifty tonnes of life-saving food aid arrived in the first delivery and a second convoy, with 315 tonnes of critical supplies, reached Gaza last week, partly funded by the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, the risk of famine is stark, and the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers throughout the Government are pushing the need to address this with the Israeli Government.

The Government are urging all sides to avoid further escalation. The situation is fragile and an escalation in violence, including on Lebanon’s southern border with Israel, is not in anyone’s interests. In the Red sea, the Houthis’ attacks against commercial shipping are patently unacceptable. We have already taken action to deter Houthi threats, and we will not hesitate to take further action as needed.

There is no perfect formula for peace. What I can say is that Gaza should ultimately be under Palestinian control, and we support a two-state solution that guarantees security and stability for both Israeli and Palestinian people.

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

Mr Speaker, the Christmas period has not brought peace to the middle east. There has been no let-up to the intolerable suffering in Gaza and no end to the cruelty for hostages. Millions are displaced, desperate and hungry. Israel continues to use devastating tactics that have seen far too many innocent civilians killed, with unacceptable blocks on essential aid, nowhere safe for civilians, a growing humanitarian catastrophe, and now warnings of a deadly famine. Meanwhile, Hamas terrorists continue to hold hostages, hide among civilians and fire rockets into Israel.

This dire situation must not continue. The need for a sustained ceasefire is clear. The fighting must stop urgently. We need a humanitarian truce now—not as a short pause but as the first step towards what will stop the killing of innocents, provide urgent humanitarian relief, ward off famine, free hostages and provide the space for a sustainable ceasefire so that fighting does not restart. I urge the Government to do everything they can to work for a sustained ceasefire, which will also ease the growing regional tensions across the divides and avoid the catastrophe of a wider war. Those risks are rising.

Will the Minister tell the House what steps the Government are taking to urge restraint in Lebanon and to see the full implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1701, which would allow civilians on both sides of the border to return home? In the Red sea, all the targeting of commercial ships and international trade routes that puts civilians and military personnel in danger must stop, so I welcome the approach of the US, the UK, Germany and others to send clear warnings to those responsible. Will the Government ensure that this House has the time and space to scrutinise decisions of any significance that may be required?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I thank the shadow Foreign Secretary for what he said and the way he said it. He is entirely right about the plight of civilians caught up in this tragedy and the urgent requirement for humanitarian support to get into Gaza in much greater numbers.

The right hon. Gentleman calls for a sustained ceasefire, and the British Government believe that is the right approach. That is why we put so much effort into securing agreement on United Nations resolution 2720.

The right hon. Gentleman is also entirely right to say it is important that the conflict is contained, and from the first moment Britain has moved military assets and other equipment to try to ensure that we detect any likelihood of it spreading more widely.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned in particular what is going on in the Red sea, and will understand that many Governments are committed to ensuring freedom of navigation and trade. We are protected in that extent by international law. Operation Prosperity Guardian is in full swing and HMS Diamond will join HMS Lancaster shortly.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on the Overseas Territories, Chair, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on the Overseas Territories

Thank you Mr Speaker.

I welcome the £2 million for additional food and the special envoy that so many of us have been calling for. First, now that Israel says it has dismantled Hamas in the north of Gaza, what are the plans to surge aid into the area, and what are Israel’s plans to rebuild the territory? Secondly, will my right hon. Friend give consideration to my proposal for an Israel-Palestine contact group that can start the hard work of a long-term peace process by kicking off track 2 negotiations?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I thank the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee for her comments about a contact group, which we will look at extremely carefully. I am grateful for her welcome for the humanitarian aid co-ordinator, who is working flat out on these matters, and also for what she says about the additional funding for food. The problems at the moment are not a shortfall in funding; they are in getting the food and necessary humanitarian requirements inside Gaza.

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

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and may I wish you and your staff a very happy new year?

Of course, it has not been a happy new year for the 2 million desperate and terrified people trapped inside Gaza, for whom 2024 brought further constant bombardment as well as the threat of famine and disease, with 50,000 people injured and almost 25,000 confirmed killed. That proves that repeated pleas from this Government and others for Israel to abide by international humanitarian law have been routinely ignored.

Scotland’s First Minister recently described what is happening in Gaza as “tantamount to ethnic cleansing”, and South Africa has asked the International Court of Justice to urgently declare Israel in breach of the 1948 genocide convention for its continued killing of Palestinians, the destruction of homes, the expulsion of people and the blockade of food, water and medical assistance. Do the UK Government think that Scotland’s First Minister and the Government of South Africa are wrong in their assessment of the current situation? If they are wrong, how are they wrong specifically?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. The Government respect the role of the ICJ and we will of course follow what is going on with great care. We have always made it clear that it is up to the courts to determine these matters and that all parties must ensure that their actions are proportionate and necessary and minimise harm to civilians.

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)

What have we learned since we last met? We have learned that Hamas are using North Korean weapons. We have heard of further examples of gender-based violence, we have heard examples of hostages being kept in cages, and we have heard the testimony of a released 17-year-old hostage, Agam Goldstein Almog, who spoke of sexual violence and torture perpetrated against hostages who are still being held. To top it all, in the last few days Jibril Rajoub, a Palestinian Authority representative and the secretary of Fatah’s central committee, has said:

“We view political Islam, and foremost among it the Hamas Movement, as part of the fabric of our struggle and our political and social fabric.”

Given what the Minister has said about the need for a two-state solution and the role of Fatah and the PA in that, what representations is he making to the PA about the radicalised language that they are using?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The Government urge everyone to exercise restraint in the language that they use, but I entirely accept my hon. Friend’s first point. Like many other Members, I saw the extensive reporting in The New York Times about what happened on 7 October, during the recess, and it behoves everyone to read it. As for the Palestinian Authority, Britain and our allies, and like-minded countries, are doing a great deal of work to try to secure a better arrangement for it when the fighting stops.

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

As the Minister will know, a large number of children are being killed, but many others have been wounded or maimed as a result of the conflict. We now know that hospital treatment and hospital facilities in Gaza have virtually collapsed. A number of non-governmental organisations, such as Save the Children, are now working to evacuate children from Gaza to ensure that they receive urgent medical treatment in third countries. Will the Minister ask his officials to convene a meeting of the NGOs to establish what further assistance our country could give in this respect, as we did in the case of Ukraine?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The right hon. Gentleman is right about the plight of children on both sides of this conflict. We are in close touch with the NGOs that he has cited, and we are also considering carefully what contribution a UK medical team could make. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, field hospitals, both inside and outside Gaza, are an important aspect of that. They could have a dramatic effect, and using them would be much better than taking people who are wounded either on to ships or to other countries. We are looking at all these matters to try and address the precise problem that the right hon. Gentleman has described.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

The conflict is clearly escalating, and no single power or, indeed, alliance is in full control, but what we should not lose control over is freedom of navigation and shipping movements in international waters. Surely a red line has already been crossed because ships have been targeted. Can my right hon. Friend tell me what will happen if shipping is further targeted? Will we not just take out those missiles in the air, but attack the silos from which they are launched?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

My right hon. Friend will have seen that HMS Diamond has shot down an attack drone, on, I think, the first occasion that the Navy has been in action in that way for 30 years. He will also have heard what the Government have said: like many other countries, they have made it crystal clear that we will not accept the fettering of the international rights of navigation, and all those involved in trying to frustrate that should hear those words.

Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Labour, Poplar and Limehouse

Just today, Medical Aid For Palestinians has reported that, along with the International Rescue Committee’s emergency medical team, it has been forced to withdraw and cease activities at Al-Aqsa hospital—the only functioning hospital in Gaza’s middle area—as a result of increasing Israeli military activity around it. There seems to be a repetition of the dismantling of health services that we have witnessed in the north in the south and middle of Gaza. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government’s support for the continued bombing of civilians and civilian infrastructure will now apply in every conflict, or whether it applies only in relation to Palestinian civilians and Palestinian hospitals?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Lady knows very well that all parties must ensure that their actions are proportionate and necessary and minimise harm to civilians, and it is in that context that we seek on all occasions to urge the Israeli Government to adopt those three key criteria.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

There will not be a single person in the House today whose heart does not break for the death of innocent civilians, which is a consequence of any conflict. Are the Government having any discussions in the wider Arab region to get Hamas to move away from their stated aims of destroying Israel and to ensure that they disarm, which would allow a basis on which to bring this fighting to an end?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

May I offer my right hon. Friend my congratulations on his honour? He is right about the importance of ensuring that all pressure is put on Hamas to desist from these outrageous and horrendous proposals that make up part of its charter. The British Government, through a whole variety of different means, do everything we can to prosecute that case.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

Said Zaaneen, a PhD student at the University of Sheffield, has been trapped in Gaza by the war. He is an extremely able student, who has a full scholarship from the university, and he is keen to continue his studies. The Foreign Office has been compiling lists of those who wish to leave, but it is currently limited to dual nationals and their immediate dependants. I appreciate all the difficulties at the Rafah crossing, but would the Minister consider extending eligibility for the Foreign Office lists to those Palestinian nationals who, like Said, are in the middle of courses at UK universities, or will he at least agree to meet me to discuss the case?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I think the answer is for the hon. Gentleman and I to have a chat immediately after this urgent question, and we will see what we can do to help.

Photo of Nicola Richards Nicola Richards Conservative, West Bromwich East

Women and girls are reported to have been raped or mutilated by Hamas in at least seven different locations in Israel in a deliberate, systematic and premeditated way. Hostages have been reportedly subject to appalling sexual abuse, too. These are girls as young as 18 or 19, and they are still there. What assessment has my right hon. Friend’s Department made of the emerging evidence documenting Hamas-style savagery? What conversations has he had with the Red Cross, which should be stopping at nothing to insist on access to these hostages?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I thank my hon. Friend for her remarks. Our contact and heavy involvement with the Red Cross and Red Crescent is happening daily. In terms of her core remark, it is the British Government’s endeavour to ensure that there will not be impunity for those who commit these horrendous crimes. No matter how long it takes, we will do everything we can to ensure that that impunity does not exist.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Shadow Minister (Defence)

The Israeli Defence Minister has set out proposals for the post-war governance of Gaza involving a multinational taskforce working with Palestinians to restore peace, order and normality. What is the British Government’s assessment of those proposals?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

We greatly welcome all constructive proposals, and we welcome the point that the Israeli Minister has made that when this dreadful conflict is over, Gaza must be run by Palestinians.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester

Overcrowding and inadequate food, water, shelter and sanitation—the World Health Organisation has already warned that these are ideal conditions for disease to spread. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to support partners on the ground in Gaza to help prevent the outbreak and spread of disease?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. There is a huge danger that, as a result of insufficient food, appalling sanitation and inadequate shelter—made worse by the winter rains—these conditions will persist, and that is why we are intent on trying to get the number of trucks that get into Gaza up to 500 a day. It is also why we have deployed this medical team, working with others, to see what can be done immediately on the ground.

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

The Israel Defence Forces chief spokesperson reflected on Saturday on the destruction of Hamas in the north of Gaza, before the IDF starts to tackle Hamas more seriously in the centre and the south. He said:

“We will do this differently…based on the lessons we have learned from the fighting so far.”

What confidence does the Minister have that Israel will conduct its counter-insurgency operations in such a way as to abide by international humanitarian law?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

It is not for me to second-guess the military tactics of what is going on in Gaza, but all I can say to the hon. Gentleman is to repeat the point I have made before: all parties must ensure that their actions are proportionate, necessary and minimise harm to civilians.

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

Members of the Israeli Government have expressed their desire that settlers should return to Gaza at some point after the conflict. Away from the terrible massacre taking place in that awful conflict zone, the situation in the west bank continues to deteriorate. In a very welcome move, the UK Government announced that they would bring in travel bans on violent settlers, but does the Minister agree that in order to deter this activity, which is worsening by the day, something more draconian may be needed? Would he please look at instituting immediate bans on trade with settlements?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I can tell my right hon. Friend that his first point, about the importance of these matters, is well understood by the Government. On his second point, that is not the policy of the Government. He will be aware that we are opposed to boycotts, divestments and sanctions—that is the position of the Government.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Labour, Manchester, Gorton

Senior representatives of Israel continue to use language endorsing genocide against Palestinians. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the IDF would turn Gaza into rubble, and a senior leader in the Israeli army has said that, in Gaza:

“There will be no electricity and no water…there will only be destruction”

On LBC radio last week, the Israeli ambassador advocated the full destruction of Gaza and said that there was “no alternative”. Last week, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary to ask him to condemn her genocidal words, but he refused. Will the Minister now condemn her remarks and commit to taking the strongest possible action against her?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

No, but I can tell the hon. Member that, in respect of the humanitarian difficulties that he has identified, we are doing everything we can to try to secure unhindered humanitarian access, and we will continue to do so.

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

Given that Hamas will never accept a two-state solution, does the Minister agree that any two-state solution must exclude Hamas—or any renamed successor—from any role in the government of Gaza after this horror is all over?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

There is clearly no place in any future settlement for Hamas and their vile ideology and terrorist actions. The two-state solution must be driven forward by people of good will on all sides.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

Last week, when the Israeli ambassador was told she was making

“an argument for destroying the whole of Gaza”,

she replied,

“do you have another solution…?”

Genocidal rhetoric like that has been echoed by a litany of Israeli officials and is matched by a murderous bombing campaign that has now killed more than 23,000 Palestinians. That is why Israel now faces the charge of genocide at the International Court of Justice. Will the Minister expel the Israeli ambassador for her genocidal rhetoric? Will he support the case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, and will he end his Government’s complicity in this atrocity by banning arms sales to Israel and demanding an immediate ceasefire?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

As I think the hon. Member will know, we are pressing for a sustainable ceasefire as well as humanitarian causes, and we are doing everything we can in that respect. In respect of the wider matter about international humanitarian law, the judgment that the Foreign Secretary made on 12 December on these matters still stands. There has been no additional evidence since that time to suggest otherwise.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

Regarding the South African application into the International Court of Justice, our US allies have described it as

“meritless, counterproductive and completely without any basis in fact”.

The Irish Prime Minister also appears to have distanced himself from it. Will my right hon. Friend say a bit more about his view on that application at the ICJ? Does he agree that using terms such as “genocide” is actually an inversion of the truth in this context?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I do think that using such inflammatory terms is unhelpful; I agree with my right hon. Friend about that. In respect of the ICJ, South Africa is entirely entitled to refer this matter. Right hon. and hon. Members will reach conclusions for themselves on whether something like that is helpful at this time.

My right hon. Friend, like me, will bear in mind that Israel is a state party to the Geneva convention of 1949, so it is obliged to take action against those accused of grave breaches of international humanitarian law. Because of the nature of Israeli society, that is something that we would expect it to do, were those circumstances to arise.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

Blwyddyn newydd dda—happy new year. More than 23,000 people have died in Gaza since October and entire communities have been razed to the ground. While the International Court of Justice has a clear definition of genocide, there remains no legal definition of ethnic cleansing. Will the Government act to ensure a definition of ethnic cleansing in law so that this legal test may be applied to the conflict?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I am sure that there will be plenty of time for these legal concepts to be questioned and advanced, but the central aim of the British Government today is to get relief and humanitarian supplies into Gaza, to help those who are trapped there and who have been eloquently described across the House this afternoon.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

Too many civilians and children have died. A sustainable ceasefire is needed urgently. There are concerns about malaria, scabies and other diseases, so as well as food and medicines will the Minister prioritise fuel for hospitals and health workers?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

There has been an increase in the amount of fuel getting into Gaza, but my right hon. Friend is right that it needs to be distributed. We are looking very carefully at how we can make progress on that.

Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Labour, Bradford West

More than 22,000 Palestinians have been killed, two thirds of them women and children. Our own Foreign Secretary has warned Israel that civilian deaths in Gaza are too high. Now a state has triggered the genocide convention, which will be determined by the International Court of Justice this week, yet Britain continues to grant weapons licences and to export weapons to Israel. Does the Minister agree that it would be reckless to continue to grant weapons licences and to export weapons to Israel, as that could support a potential act of genocide and render UK Government officials complicit in genocide under article 25 of the Rome statute?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Lady will know that Britain has one of the toughest arms exports regulation regimes in the world. Clearly, any new applications would be considered by that very tough regime in the normal way.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

Hamas leaders have long enjoyed impunity, moving freely between Turkey, Lebanon and Qatar, financing and amassing international support for their terror activities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this special treatment by those nations has resulted in Hamas accruing the capabilities that led to the barbaric, evil and, frankly, medieval 7 October massacre? Will he ensure that more is done to clamp down on states that facilitate the strengthening of Hamas?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

My hon. Friend makes a very good case. He is right that we must ensure that those who perpetrate the dreadful evil to which he refers are not able to do so again.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Happy new year, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State has indicated that he is in contact with the Israeli Government and is expressing the Government’s views, but has he raised with them the prospect of widespread disease and famine among Palestinian people in Gaza? If so, has he received any sympathetic response from the Israeli Government that they are aware that how they are conducting their bombing campaign is likely to bring that about?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

These discussions are going on all the time, and they are greatly assisted by the British Government’s appointment of Mark Bryson-Richardson, the humanitarian co-ordinator. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers have been actively engaged in making the points to which the hon. Gentleman refers, so he may rest assured that there is no lack of explanation from the British Government in that respect.

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

We all want a sustainable ceasefire that leads to a lasting peace, but it is easy to forget that a ceasefire existed between Israel and Hamas on 6 October, and we all know what happened the following day. Does my right hon. Friend believe that a sustainable ceasefire can ever be achieved while Hamas remain in place?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not speculate on his last point, but he is right that we need to work towards a sustainable ceasefire. We need yet more urgently humanitarian pauses, because in order for there to be a ceasefire, both parties must be willing to accept it. That is one of the reasons why Britain went to such effort to ensure that council resolution 2720 was secured.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

The statement we have just heard really does not measure up to the needs of the occasion: 22,000 people already killed; 1.9 million displaced; thousands dying in the rubble; thousands of children dying because of a lack of medical care and food; and people dying of starvation, thirst and hunger in the Gaza strip at the present time. Can the Government not understand the anger around the world when they watch this happening in real time, and why so many people are very pleased that the Government of South Africa have taken the initiative by going to the International Court of Justice to hold Israel to account for the deaths of so many wholly innocent people in Gaza? Can the Government not understand that and at least support the South African process?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The policy of the Government—supported, I think, by those on the Opposition Front Bench—is to secure a sustainable ceasefire. The problem with the right hon. Gentleman’s analysis, in my view, is that it does not take adequate account of the quite appalling events that took place on 7 October, when more Jewish people were murdered in a pogrom than at any time since the end of the second world war.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

The Government have said that there will be consequences if Houthi attacks on international shipping continue. What will those consequences be, when will they start, and will they include both the Houthi rebels and their Iranian backers?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. That point is separate from the conflict in Gaza, but she will have heard what the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and the Foreign Secretary have said, and she will have heard those remarks echoed by our allies. I very much hope that the Houthis and others will draw the right conclusion from that.

Photo of Khalid Mahmood Khalid Mahmood Labour, Birmingham, Perry Barr

The right hon. Member talked a number of times about resolution 2720, but the fact is that the aid is still not getting through. There are not even sufficient bakeries to bake the bread for the people and, as Members have said, disease is rife in Palestine. How are we going to support the innocent people that Hamas are using as shields, and that the IDF is also using to attack Hamas? How can those people have any sort of a life when so many have been killed so far and so many are now affected by the huge amount of disease?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Gentleman is right about the danger of diseases, which I spelled out a few moments ago to one of his hon. Friends, but the critical requirement is to ensure that we focus on getting additional support in. That is why we have supported so strongly the route in from Jordan to Gaza, and why the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary has been taking British and Cypriot aid from Cyprus down to Egypt.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

Recently, the Israeli ambassador to the UK very candidly said that there was absolutely no chance of a two-state solution. Has my right hon. Friend worked out whether the ambassador was speaking independently, or whether she was reflecting the views of the Israeli Government? If the latter is the case, does that not sound like a slap in the face for UK policy? If it is the former—that she was making up her own view—how can she be relied upon as a faithful conveyor of the Israeli Government’s message?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

My hon. Friend will have noted a variety of different comments that have been made by Israeli spokesmen and Israeli Ministers, but it is very strongly the policy of the British Government, and many other Governments, that we should work, when this appalling conflict is over, towards a two-state solution where both Israel and Palestine can live behind secure and safe borders.

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

Happy new year to you and your team, Mr Speaker. It is clear that any sustainable ceasefire will have to involve an accountability mechanism for the allegations of war crimes, whether the taking of hostages, rape or genocide. Now that there is the case before the International Court of Justice brought by South Africa, UK residents have a right to know the approach that their Government are taking to that. I asked the Minister on 11 and 19 December to set out what mechanism for upholding international law the Government support. For the avoidance of doubt, will he now say that the Government have a position on the court and what role it will play, and whether he believes all parties should abide by any outcomes from it?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Lady is entirely right to talk about accountability mechanisms. In this urgent question I have made it clear at least twice that the British Government are absolutely supportive of that and do not want any culture of impunity to pertain afterwards. I have spelled out what the Government think about the reference to the international court. We respect the role of the international court, and we are following closely what is going on. It is up to the court to determine these matters. Whether or not it is helpful to launch that challenge at this particular point is a matter on which there will be disagreement on both sides of the House.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

Last week, I visited Kfar Aza for the second time. Since I last went there four years ago, a massacre has taken place. When I was at the kibbutz last week, I felt it was the closest to evil that I had ever been. I met the families of some of the hostages. I know that the British Red Cross and UN organisations are active on the ground in trying to look after the welfare of children. However, that does not appear to extend to the hostages, one of whom is only 11 months old. Will the Minister outline whether the Government are taking any steps to make sure that this is happening and that there is a strategy to ensure the welfare of the hostages?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

My hon. Friend is right to identify the agony being felt by so many of the hostages’ families, relations and loved ones. Some 130 hostages remain in Gaza, and we are working closely with more than 20 countries to help to secure their release. It is probably not helpful for me to give a running commentary in the House, but my hon. Friend may rest assured that we are doing everything we can to secure their early release.

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

I heard what the Minister said earlier in response to my hon. Friend Brendan O’Hara and a Government Back Bencher about the International Court of Justice, but I wonder whether he has had time to read South Africa’s 84-page application—it is rather damning, and some lawyers say it is a strong application. I agree with the Minister that it is for the court, not politicians, to decide whether there has been a genocide. However, if he has had time to look at South Africa’s submission, does he at least agree that it seems, prima facie, that Israel has committed some serious breaches of international law in Gaza, for which it must be held accountable?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

It is not for me to exercise that judgment. The truth of the matter is that I have not read all 84 pages, but I have been briefed on them. It must now be left to the court to reach its determination.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

I welcome the Government’s role in sending more aid, securing the opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing and securing UN resolution 2720, alongside my right hon. Friend’s rightful focus on what we can do to help the dire health and hunger situation in Gaza. How confident is he, however, that the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill will adequately reflect widespread concern about illegal and violent Israeli activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I think that must wait until Wednesday. The Government do not believe that public bodies should be able to waste public money pursuing their own foreign policy, and I am sure that these points will be properly teased out on Wednesday. In respect of the very difficult humanitarian situation, which my hon. Friend rightly describes, the inadequate shelter is made worse by the winter rains that we are seeing, and there is a real danger of disease spreading. That is one reason why Britain has deployed a medical team to see what we can do to help with this desperate situation, particularly in Rafah but also throughout Gaza.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East

Israel is committing war crimes on a daily basis in Gaza. We have seen the forced displacement and collective punishment of Palestinians, starvation used as a weapon, healthcare facilities and journalists targeted, and much more. As we have heard, South Africa is now taking forward a legal case against Israel in the International Court of Justice. If, as it could, that court quickly issues an order for Israel to immediately suspend its military operations, will the Government uphold that order by finally—finally—calling for an immediate ceasefire, as many of us have been demanding?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the policy of an immediate ceasefire is not shared by either the Government or, indeed, those on the Opposition Front Bench. In respect of the work of the court, let us wait and see what the court decides. He asks me a hypothetical question, and I think we should wait and see what the court says.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

It is now almost 100 days since Hamas committed their evil atrocities in Israel. Also, 130 hostages are still held in captivity by Hamas terrorists. The international Red Cross has not had access to those hostages, the oldest of which are over 75 and the youngest under one year old. What action is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that the international Red Cross can insist on seeing the hostages and looking after their health?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

My hon. Friend is right to focus on the appalling agony and plight of the hostages. As I said earlier, I do not think it is helpful to rehearse in the House precisely what we are doing, but he may rest assured that we are in continuous contact with the Red Cross and doing everything we possibly can, along with our allies, to try to secure the hostages’ release.

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

The IDF claims that as many as 8,000 Hamas terrorists have been killed, while at the same time there are reports that Hamas are training children to take their place. The position of the more than 100 hostages still being held by Hamas looks incredibly precarious. Will the Minister outline what progress can be made and how the UK can ensure that those people can be released and Israel can be in a position to begin to seek peace? Does the Minister believe that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has a role to play in that peacemaking?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The answer to my hon. Friend’s final point is yes, and he sets out with great eloquence the issues and problems faced by the hostages in this appalling situation. He will have heard what I said to other hon. Members in that respect.

Photo of Mark Logan Mark Logan Conservative, Bolton North East

Before we reach a ceasefire—something needed sooner rather than later, according to many of my constituents—two doctors in Bolton, Dr Samir Naseet and Dr Ibrahim Hamami, have asked what preparations we are making to prepare the ground for the post-ceasefire period by leading on volunteer medical practitioners going to Gaza at that time?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work in this respect: I know how much work he has been doing with communities in his constituency who are engaged with Gaza. I will take careful note of the point that he has made.

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

I think everybody here condemns the heinous attacks by Hamas on 7 October and the taking of hostages, and we all want their safe and immediate release. But that does not excuse the brutal, indiscriminate and disproportionate violence that the IDF are perpetrating on innocent Gazan civilians. Our world must operate on a rules-based system, and that includes our allies. Given the scale of casualties, may I press the Minister on whether he and the Government will support—not come to a decision on—the ICC’s investigating potential war crimes and make all evidence available to it?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Lady will have heard what I have said about any culture of impunity. In respect of her central question, all I can do is reiterate the points I have already made that the British Government are insistent that all parties must ensure that their actions are proportionate and necessary, and that they take account of civilian harm.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

Hundreds of Stroud constituents are contacting me about a ceasefire and many understand it is complicated by Hamas being terrorists and their threats to repeat the rape and murder of 7 October. But we all want to see the protection of civilians, the conflict to end and the hostages to be released. As my right hon. Friend has said, the UK and the Foreign Secretary have led calls for a sustainable ceasefire. Will he set out the conditions that are necessary for a sustainable ceasefire to be achieved?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

My hon. Friend will have seen extensive comment on that and she will also have followed the development of Security Council resolution 2720, which Britain was effective in ensuring was agreed. A sustainable ceasefire is one that enables us to get relief into Gaza and we are doing everything we can to try to achieve that objective.

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

The only way this war is likely to be brought to an end is through Government pressure—US pressure on the Israeli Government, and the Arab countries playing their part in applying pressure on Hamas. In the absence of such pressure, can the Minister, who has a good track record on campaigning against genocide, certainly in relation to the International Court of Justice case of The Gambia against Myanmar, look at how that ICJ case on genocide prevention can be used to apply pressure and prevent the Israeli Government from indiscriminate attacks on civilians?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Lady may rest assured that we, together with our American allies and others, are seeking to exert pressure on those involved in this conflict in the way she describes, but I caution her against seeing any analogy between the Gambian-led case at the ICJ and the South African case over Israel and Gaza.

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Meon Valley

National Security Minister Ben-Gvir issued a call to encourage the migration of Gaza residents as a solution to the crisis. Finance Minister Smotrich called for Palestinians to leave Gaza and make way for Israelis who could “make the desert bloom”. What steps have the UK Government taken to ensure that Palestinians will be able to return to their homes in Gaza as soon as conditions allow, in the light of those recent comments by Israeli Ministers and those by the Israeli ambassador to the UK, who called for Gazans to emigrate?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. The Government have made it absolutely clear that there can be no resettlement of Palestinians outside of Gaza: those who lived in Gaza before must have the right of return and the British Government have been unequivocal on that point.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley

The human suffering unfolding before our very eyes is absolutely horrific and heart breaking: tens of thousands of innocent Gazans losing their lives, 1.9 million displaced and only last week the Israeli National Security Minister talked about

“the emigration of hundreds of thousands from Gaza”,

as part of a post-war vision. Will the Minister condemn his Israeli counterpart for seeking to permanently displace Palestinians from their homes, confirm that Members of the Israeli Government are advocating for breaches of international law and agree that the actions of the Israeli state contravene the genocide convention? As a first step, will he call for an immediate ceasefire, so that we can bring an end to the conflict and treat those people who are suffering?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Lady will be aware of the arguments for a sustainable ceasefire that are propagated by the Government and supported by the Opposition Front Bench. She is entirely right about the suffering and, in respect of her first point, she will have heard what I said to two of her hon. Friends.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

I wholeheartedly welcome the £2 million the UK is providing for vital food aid, and I welcome the Minister’s comments that he continues to lobby Israel to reduce barriers to aid getting into Gaza, to the people who need it most. Will he reassure me and my constituents in Aylesbury that his Department will continue to keep food aid and medical aid to Gaza under review, and will redouble its efforts to work with neighbouring countries to ensure that aid gets where it is needed most?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

Yes, Mr Speaker, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. He refers to the £2 million that was specifically allocated to the convoy from Jordan, but he should be aware that the contribution Britain is making is far more extensive and includes four air flights into el-Arish and the naval operation I described, in addition to what we seek to do in opening the new route from Jordan.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

Northern Gaza lies in ruins. The Minister, when he was on the Back Benches, said in 2022 that Aleppo had been

“bombed back to the stone age” and spoke of “indiscriminate attacks on hospitals” and

“massive breaches of the rules of war and of international humanitarian law”.—[Official Report, 15 March 2022;
Vol. 710, c. 835.]

The then Minister of State, now the Home Secretary, speaking on the Syrian situation in 2020, said that nearly 300 civilians—not 23,000 civilians—

“have been killed in Idlib in Aleppo since 1 January… International humanitarian law continues to be ignored, with civilian infrastructure being hit probably as a result of active targeting… The UK has condemned…these flagrant violations of international law and basic human decency... We have repeatedly pressed—including at the UN Security Council—for an immediate…ceasefire.”—[Official Report, 24 February 2020;
Vol. 672, c. 23.]

The Minister has said today that it is not for him to decide what is a war crime. Why are this Government so quick—and rightly—to condemn Russia’s war crimes, but not Israel’s war crimes?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The British Government and indeed the Opposition stand up for international humanitarian law and condemn breaches of it whenever they take place. That is why from this Dispatch Box, throughout these terrible days since 7 October, we have consistently appealed to everyone to stand by international humanitarian law and obey what it says.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

Last week I also visited the region. Is my right hon. Friend aware that South Africa is geopolitically moving towards Iran and openly supports Hamas? Indeed, its Foreign Secretary said that Israel does not even have the right to defend itself. It is in danger of becoming a terrorist proxy. As a former Attorney General, I can say that South Africa’s case at The Hague has no legal merit whatsoever. Israel’s actions are in lawful self-defence. The case is a dangerous political stunt that the United States has already criticised. Does my right hon. Friend agree that His Majesty’s Government should do the same and criticise South Africa’s action?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The South Africans are entitled under the rules to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice in the way that they have and, as I have repeatedly said, there will be different views across the House on whether it is helpful to do so at this stage. In respect of what my right hon. and learned Friend says about South Africa, South Africa is a pluralist democracy and there are many different voices that come out of it. Britain has a close, deep and abiding historical relationship with South Africa and we give our advice to the South African Government whenever we have the opportunity to do so.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

The Minister says Israeli military action should be targeted on Hamas leaders and operatives. He knows better than anyone that it is not. It disproportionately kills civilians, including children, journalists and health care and aid workers. What steps are the Government taking to restrain Israel from breaking international law, and will he concede that ending trade with illegal settlements is, as a matter of fact and law, unrelated to boycott, divestment and sanctions?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

In respect of the discussions to which the hon. Gentleman refers, I can assure him that the British Government hold those discussions all the time. He will know that the Prime Minister has spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu at least four times and met him in Israel towards the end of October. He has met President Herzog, the ruler of Qatar, King Abdullah, President al-Sisi, António Guterres, President Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed bin Salman from Saudi Arabia. Those arguments and discussions are going on, and above all we make the point that people must abide by international humanitarian law.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle

Last week the Israeli ambassador in London said the quiet bit out loud when she implied that the Israeli Government are trying to totally destroy the Gaza strip. Has the Foreign Secretary hauled her in to explain that this Government oppose that policy, or is it the case that this Government are comfortable with that position—just as they seem to have been comfortable, alongside the US Administration, with the total and utter slaughter of innocent Palestinians over the last three months?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The British Government make their views very clear at all times; I have just given the hon. Gentleman a list of all the different people the Prime Minister has been engaged with since this awful conflict started. We make consistent and clear points, all of which are questioned in this House.

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

Whatever the rhetoric we still sometimes hear, I know the Minister will agree that there is absolutely nowhere in this conflict that is safe for children. Further to the answers he has already given to my right hon. Friend John McDonnell and Will Quince, may I ask him to spell out how his humanitarian strategy, and the aid that he is trying to get in to the area, will respond to the desperate needs of the children who are affected?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

We are trying to ensure that 500 trucks a day get in to provide the humanitarian aid the hon. Lady is talking about. We are also trying to do everything we can to ensure that there is additional health and hospital capacity inside Gaza, as well as just outside; we do not think it is sensible for people to be taken offshore, but they need to be treated inside Gaza where possible. In every respect, whether on medicines, food, shelter or the capacity to provide additional and more detailed medical help, we are doing everything we can to advance those objectives.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Reclaim, North West Leicestershire

Given that the death toll of Palestinians in Gaza is over 22,000 and that at least a third of those deaths will involve children, does the Minister still believe that the Israel Defence Forces response to the 7 October atrocities, in which 1,200 Israeli citizens were murdered, remains proportionate?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I really do not think that the equation that the hon. Gentleman makes between barbaric death in that way is one that stands very close scrutiny. He will have heard what I have said consistently throughout this statement about the role that Britain is taking to try to improve a desperate situation.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

Every time pleas are made to exercise restraint, Netanyahu doubles down, so that 22,000 mostly women and child deaths and non-functioning hospitals have now become the norm. Two of his Ministers say that the forcibly evicted Palestinians can resettle elsewhere—that is ethnic cleansing. Are we not just greenlighting a leader who was already unpopular before all this and who cares less about pinpoint accuracy and international law, as he promised, than clinging on now as a war hero?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The longevity or otherwise of the Prime Minister of Israel is a matter for the Israeli people. On the hon. Lady’s point about Palestinians being allowed to return to Gaza, she will have heard what I said: the British Government totally oppose any question of resettlement of Palestinians outside Gaza or the fettering of their right to return when this dreadful contest is over.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

It is not good enough for the Government to keep calling for Israel to abide by international and humanitarian law when there is overwhelming evidence that it is not. By contrast, the Government have been very clear that Russia has been breaching international humanitarian law in Ukraine and have called out the bombing of civilians—indeed, the bombing of a children’s playground. Why the double standards? Is it credible to continue with them?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Gentleman draws attention to the point that I have been making—that we are always standing up for international humanitarian law; it does not matter where there are breaches. We condemn breaches of international humanitarian law and seek to hold to account those who break it.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

The Minister has supported a two-state solution, with Gaza under Palestinian control, but the proposals tabled last week by the Israeli Defence Minister are very different, envisaging a subsidiary status of some kind for Palestine. How in practice does the Minister envisage the two-state model being taken forward once the conflict ends?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely correct to say that a number of proposals are being generated, some of which are being given voice at this moment. But the critical thing is that, when this dreadful conflict ceases, there will be a moment for the political track to assert itself. What we now need to see is that political track, when it can start, having real force and real strength and listening to the widest number of constructive voices to try to make sure that we make progress. He will remember that the progress made at Oslo followed the second intifada. We must pray that when this dreadful conflict is over there will be an opportunity for a strong political track to assert itself.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

The Minister himself acknowledged that the spectre of famine is stalking Gaza. I applaud his aim to restore the pre-war level of 500 or so trucks going into Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid, but will he tell us how many trucks actually went through in the last 24 hours? Is it true that in some cases trucks are waiting up to 15 days for clearance and that trucks are taken out of the convoy of aid because one item has failed security checks? If so, what can be done to make sure that trucks queueing to deliver aid are taken through the border and reach their intended beneficiaries as quickly as possible?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. Currently, around 150 trucks a day are getting in—[Interruption.] That is, as she is indicating from a sedentary position, entirely inadequate, but we are trying to make sure that the number rises to 500. Although I said in my opening remarks that there is a fear of famine, it is not our assessment at the moment that famine has arrived. But there is acute starvation and hunger, and it is that that we are trying to combat at this stage.

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Chief Whip

The Minister has referred multiple times to the application of international law. What definition of proportionate, targeted and minimising are the Government applying if they consider the actions of Israel to be in compliance with all of those? How many children have to be killed before the Government stop the linguistic gymnastics and call for an immediate ceasefire?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Gentleman will have heard what I said about the importance of a sustainable ceasefire. He will have heard much the same from the official Opposition. As we showed at the United Nations, we are working towards achieving a sustainable ceasefire. In the run-up to that, we want to see humanitarian pauses that are as long and as immediate as possible. That is the policy that we will continue to pursue.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

On 11 December, along with other parliamentarians, I heard the harrowing eyewitness account of Dr Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a British-Palestinian surgeon who had recently returned from Gaza. He spoke of the desperate state of the healthcare provision there, with a lack of essential supplies and no morphine for patients after surgery. He spoke of treating children, who he believes had phosphorus burns, with washing up liquid and vinegar, and without painkillers. He believes that medical teams need to be allowed to set up in-field hospitals, and that the most critically injured patients need to be allowed to leave Gaza. On 7 January, Israeli authorities denied a request by the World Health Organisation to deliver urgent medical supplies to the central drug store in Gaza city and al-Awda Hospital. Will the Government put pressure on Israel to allow the delivery of those vital supplies, and will the Government call for a permanent ceasefire?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I have set out the reasons why calling for a permanent ceasefire is not, in our opinion, the right way to proceed. We need to call, as the United Nations resolution does, for a sustainable ceasefire, and we need to address the problems, which the hon. Lady set out so clearly, in the ways that we are: by trying to get more humanitarian supplies and support into Gaza, and to move towards the sustainable ceasefire that I think everyone agrees should take place.

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

We know that women and children make up about 70% of the more than 22,000 people who have been killed in Gaza. That is a horrific number, and should be called such. We know that the 7 October attacks saw women and young people bear the terrible brunt of the violence, which continues. There are now serious implications for the treatment of women and children in future, including in other places. That future must mean a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution. Does the Minister recognise the particular impact on innocent women and children, and the urgent need, therefore, for a ceasefire to protect them now and in the future? What specifically is he doing to deal with the disproportionate impact on innocent women and children on the ground?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I recognise entirely what the hon. Lady says about the plight of innocent women and children caught up in these horrendous circumstances. That is why Britain is working with our allies to try to improve the level of humanitarian access, so that we can help the people who, as she so eloquently set out, are suffering at this time.

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

The suffering in Gaza over the last three months has been intolerable. I have spoken with many constituents about how unbearable it is to see, day after day, innocent civilians, particularly children, being killed. We urgently need to get to a sustainable ceasefire. Beyond that, a long-term peace will need a determined international effort to deliver a two-state solution, with Gaza as part of a future Palestinian state. What discussions have the UK Government had with international allies about the future of Gaza once the fighting has come to an end?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Gentleman correctly sets out the challenge and the requirement for us all. The British Government, at the diplomatic and political levels, through ministerial engagement not just in Israel but throughout the middle east, are seeking to advance precisely the objectives that he so coherently put.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

Has the Minister made clear to the Israeli Government his criticism of the comments of the Israeli ambassador in which she explicitly rejected a two-state solution, what has the response of the Israeli Prime Minister been, and does the Minister accept that if that is the policy of the Israeli Government going forward, Israel will have effectively ended any possibility of long-term peace in the region?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Gentleman will know that there are many different voices coming out of Israel. It was perhaps a matter of surprise that the ambassador chose to express herself at this point in precisely that way, but he will be aware that the policy of the British Government is to support a two-state solution. That has always been the policy. It is the policy of both Front Benches and one that Britain is bending every sinew to make sure that we achieve.

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

The Israeli Government have demanded full control of the Philadelphi corridor, the land border between Gaza and Egypt. As the Minister himself said earlier, it is the main aid corridor for UK and international aid into Gaza. The Egyptian Government are reportedly opposed to the proposal due to the effect on the country’s sovereignty, so how concerned are the British Government about the Israeli Government’s demands in respect of the Philadelphi corridor?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Gentleman will have seen the progress that has been made on other forms of access. I have mentioned specifically the convoys from Jordan, two of which have now reached Gaza, and the maritime support that Britain is providing to bring Cypriot and British aid into Egypt. We are confronting the difficulties in securing humanitarian support for those who desperately need it, and doing everything we can to overcome them.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Exports)

The level of death and destruction in Gaza is horrifying and completely unacceptable, including bombings of a refugee camp on Christmas eve, which even the Israeli Government have admitted were grave errors. That is why the likes of me have been calling for, and voting for, an end to the violence. Does the Minister agree that we should call for a humanitarian truce, which could be used to secure a sustainable, permanent ceasefire and an end to this conflict?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we are seeking humanitarian pauses, and we hope that we can reach a sustainable ceasefire. That is the policy of the Government, and it is the policy that was echoed at the United Nations. He will also want to reflect on the fact that Israel has an absolute right to exercise self-defence, but it must do so within international humanitarian law.

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

Young women just out of school remain in captivity, facing rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war by Hamas, and we know that Hamas remain a barrier, rather than a conduit, towards a two-state solution. On the other side, senior politicians and the Israeli ambassador now feel the confidence to be able to declare that a two-state solution is off the table, completely ruling out the position that the Minister articulates. Does he not share my fear that his refusal to condemn the comments of the Israeli ambassador, and his continuing to say that we support international law when it is clear that it is being broken, will give the Israelis the sense that, secretly, we support the approach they are taking? As friends of the Israelis, we must be much stronger in condemning what they are doing.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

Nothing secret is engaged here. We have been very clear about exactly where we stand, even when it is not very popular across the House: we will stand up for a sustainable ceasefire, seek to get a political track and use Britain’s diplomatic skills and clout, which are much respected in the region, to try to approach a political settlement that honours the two-state solution. I am not sure there is very much between what the hon. Gentleman and I are saying today, but that is the endeavour in which the British Government are engaged.

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

It was pleasing to hear the Minister say that Gaza must be run by Palestinians and that there should be no forced resettlement of Palestinians. I am deeply concerned by the comments made by the Israeli ambassador condemning the two-state solution. Further to the response that the Minister gave to my hon. Friends, will he outline whether there is an international coalition for a two-state solution? How powerful is this international coalition? How much influence does it have over Israel, and what is Britain’s role within it?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

Throughout all the difficulties, there has been a solid, constant refrain that there has to be a two-state solution, with both Israel and Palestine living in peace behind secure borders. If the hon. Lady reads the speeches made at the United Nations by many of the countries to which she refers, I think she will draw hope from their consistency.

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

Over Christmas, I heard from a constituent whose sister and her sister’s four children are stuck in Gaza. If there were a ceasefire, it might be easier for them to leave Gaza. If the UK were prepared to offer humanitarian visas to relatives of UK citizens who are in Gaza, it might be easier for them to leave. What is the Minister’s message to my constituent, her sister and her sister’s young children who are trapped in Gaza?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

It is difficult for me to comment on a specific case but, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to discuss it with me after this urgent question, I would be happy to see him. He will know that 300 British nationals have been able to leave, thanks not least to the hard work of the brilliant young men and women who are working in the emergency centre at the Foreign Office in London. A small number remain, but we are working literally night and day to make sure we do everything we can to look after our citizens and their relations.

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

The Minister mentioned Oslo in response to my right hon. Friend Sir Stephen Timms. The sad truth is that Prime Minister Netanyahu never really supported Oslo and a two-state solution, and Hamas definitely do not. The two have thrived off each other’s absolutist positions over the past few decades. For those of us who do believe in Oslo, in the peace process and in two states for two peoples, what happens next really matters. The Minister says he wants to secure better arrangements for the Palestinian Authority after the fighting ends. What does he mean by that?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The Foreign Secretary has engaged with both the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Minister and President Abbas. Britain wants to support the Palestinian Authority in further developing the sinews of statehood that will be required if there is to be a two-state solution, as I hope there will be one day.

I very much agree with the analysis in the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, and it is now for Britain and other countries to do everything we can to develop those abilities within the Palestinian Authority so that they can properly exercise power, governance and representation in Gaza in due course.

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

In the light of Tzipi Hotovely’s statement on LBC radio that the destruction of Gaza should continue and be extensive, why have the Government not condemned those words, which drew back on her previous comments about a two-state solution? What is the Minister going to do, because this is inconsistent with everything he is saying at the Dispatch Box?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

No one wants to see wanton destruction, which is why I have been very clear about international humanitarian law. I also hope the hon. Lady would assert that, given the horrendous events of 7 October, Israel has a right to self-defence. That is what Israel is seeking to exercise in tracking down Hamas and stopping their ability to repeat what they did on 7 October, as Hamas’s leaders have made clear they wish to do.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Victims and Sentencing)

I am struggling to understand what the Government’s response is, apart from surprise at the use of extremist language. What chance can there be for the humanitarian truce that is needed now, and for a sustainable ceasefire and a lasting peace, when extremist views are uttered not just by terrorist organisations but by some Ministers and diplomats representing the Israeli Government?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

Many wild statements have been made, some with which Members will agree and others with which they will not, but the British Government’s purpose is to achieve a sustainable ceasefire and to meet the immense humanitarian need. It is then to lift people’s eyes, when this terrible conflict is over, to the possibilities of peace that a political track can deliver.

Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Scottish National Party, Glasgow South

A great many of my constituents write to me on a daily basis demanding that the Government change their position to deliver a ceasefire, but on the point about language, when Israeli Ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir said that Gaza should be essentially free of Palestinians, the Government, along with European counterparts, correctly condemned them, but when the ambassador in London called for Gaza to be flattened even more than it already has been, they say nothing. Why?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I have explained the Government policy in some detail both in respect of tackling the humanitarian need that so manifestly exists and in developing the political track when this conflict is over, and I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman and his party will feel able to support that.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

The UN has described Gaza as a “graveyard for children”; it is reported that more than 9,000 have been killed and thousands more severely injured. Those children who have survived face a bleak future, with limited access to aid as bombs continue to rain down on them. Many have lost their parents and their entire families. I heard the Minister’s earlier responses, but can he explain in more detail why the Government support unaccompanied children fleeing Ukraine but cannot set up similar support for children in Gaza?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I do not think that the two situations are analogous, but I do think it is very important that we do everything we can to help the children and the others in Gaza whom the hon. Lady describes, and we will continue to do exactly that.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee

Further to that question, we know that children are seven times more likely than adults to be killed by blast injuries and that 1,000 children have lost one or both legs in the last three months in Gaza. The scars that Gazan children are bearing from this war will be long-lasting, so does the Minister agree that to have that two-state solution—that long and lasting peace—we need to step up as part of an international community to defend Gazan children?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The plight of Gazan children will weigh heavily on all decent people on all sides of the argument being expressed in the House this afternoon. The Government will continue to do everything we can, but in terms of the long-term point the hon. Lady made about the two-state solution, all of our diplomatic and political efforts are bent towards trying to secure that.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

After almost 23,000 civilian deaths, including almost 10,000 children, many observers are describing the atrocity in Gaza as a genocide. I take the Minister at his word on his belief that we need to see a two-state solution. However, last week we heard Bezalel Smotrich, the Finance Minister, describing the need for voluntary emigration from Gaza and Israeli occupation and resettlement of Gaza, and we heard Prime Minister Netanyahu and Ambassador Hotovely describing what they want to see, which is the outright destruction of Hamas and the Palestinian people. I think we need to be honest: when Netanyahu calls for a total victory, he wants to see the annihilation of the Palestinian people, doesn’t he?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I do not think that a close observation of Mr Netanyahu’s remarks would sustain that view. The point the hon. Gentleman is making underlines how important it is for people to be moderate in their language as we seek to move through this dreadful crisis, both in humanitarian terms and ceasefire terms, to the point beyond, when there can be a political track with some hope of success.

Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Is the Minister aware that before Christmas a sniper murdered two women—a mother and a daughter—inside the Holy Family parish in Gaza? The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem stated that the women

“were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the parish, where there are no belligerents”.

Pope Francis has condemned the attack, as has the Archbishop of Westminster; will the Government do so?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

We are not clear about the full facts of what happened. We have of course heard what the Holy Father has said and what others have said as well, but the fact that any innocent person loses their life in these horrendous circumstances is something which the whole House will deplore.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I thank the Minister of State for taking so many questions and the shadow Foreign Secretary, Mr Lammy, for staying the course. That concludes the urgent question and I ask Members wishing to do so to leave the Chamber as swiftly and as quietly as possible.