Humanitarian Situation in Gaza

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – in the House of Commons at on 12 March 2024.

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Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley

What steps he is taking to help improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

What steps he is taking to help improve the humanitarian situation 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)

We are doing all we can to increase aid into Gaza. With our allies, we will take decisions on the future of UNRWA funding after scrutinising Catherine Colonna’s interim report on UNRWA neutrality.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley

We have heard this morning some shocking reports about Palestinian medical staff in Gaza being blindfolded, detained, forced to strip and repeatedly beaten by Israeli troops, after a raid on Nasser Hospital last month. There is footage from Khan Yunis showing men stripped and kneeling, and patients with their hands bound being wheeled in beds. Do the UK Government believe that the Israeli Government are responsible for the conduct of their forces, and that this clearly appears to be torture and is in breach of international law, including the universal declaration of human rights and article 18 of the Geneva convention? What are the UK Government going to do about this?

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 right to say that Israel must comply with the Geneva convention. We have seen these reports. A full explanation and investigation is required, and that is what the British Government are pressing for. I point out to her that, when it comes to targeting operations, lawyers are embedded in the Israeli and Israel Defence Forces command, just as happens in Britain, which should ensure the acceptance and honouring of international humanitarian law. But I agree that a full explanation is required.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

For months we have seen the horrifying images of children in Gaza mutilated or killed by bombing, and now we see them starving. Aid by air and sea is welcome, but it is insufficient and it is a diversion from Israel’s responsibility. Yesterday, 12 Israeli human rights organisations called out their own Government for failing to comply with the International Court of Justice ruling to facilitate access for humanitarian aid. Does the Minister agree that the Israeli Government should be told by the UK and our allies to unlock aid and end the killing, or face real consequences?

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 Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have both pressed Prime Minister Netanyahu, and indeed President Herzog, to ensure that more aid can get into Gaza. As the hon. Gentleman will also know, it is the policy of the British Government to do everything we can to achieve a pause so that we can get the hostages out and get more aid in, and move towards a sustainable ceasefire. We are doing everything we can to try to achieve that.

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

What we are seeing in Gaza is a starvation-level event. The United States has taken the desperate measure of air drops and flotillas, which do not direct aid like land-based aid. The only organisation big enough to fully distribute aid in order to avoid starvation is UNRWA. Canada reviewed the interim report of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services and has resumed funding. Sweden has received bilateral assurances on the same actions that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is supposedly looking for from UNRWA and has resumed funding. It is scandalous that the UK Government’s position is still for a suspension of funds, despite the interim report and without evidence of wrongdoing being provided by Israeli in the first place. The British public do not want to be responsible for starvation in Gaza. When will the Minister resume the funding?

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 have told the House before, no British funding is due until April and enough funds have now come forward to ensure that adequate supplies are available. We are awaiting the report of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services and the interim report from Catherine Colonna, the former French Foreign Minister. The view we take is that when we have seen those, we very much hope we will have the reassurance to recommence funding. That is also the position of the US, Germany, Australia, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be comforted by the fact that we are very much trying to resolve this matter as speedily as we can.

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

The Foreign Affairs Committee recently returned from al-Arish, which is the staging point for aid into Gaza. It was very difficult to see thousands of trucks on that border. The Government have been clear that Israel has a legal obligation to ensure that aid reaches civilians. The last legal assessment took place at the end of last year. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House, in legal terms, whether Israel is demonstrating a commitment to international humanitarian law? If he will not tell us in the House, will he please write to me?

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 visit with the Select Committee and for her comments. We are quite clear that Israel has the capacity and ability to abide by international humanitarian law. We review it on a regular basis, but as of today that remains the position.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

The UN mission team that recently visited Israel concluded that

“there are reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence occurred in multiple locations during the 7 October attacks”.

In the light of that appalling and shocking conclusion, will the Government redouble their efforts to get the hostages home, because they might be suffering a similar fate to those victims on 7 October?

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 my right hon. Friend. She will know that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and Lord Ahmad have all met the families of the hostages. I had the privilege of meeting some of the families last week, the second occasion I have done so within the precincts of this House. She is right. We are doing everything we can to increase the flow of aid and get the hostages home. We will continue to do so.

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge

One of the most troubling aspects of the 7 October massacre was the fact that many ordinary Gazans—reports indicate hundreds, or even thousands—followed the Hamas terrorists into Israel and participated in the atrocities. Reports suggest that civilians kidnapped Israelis and sold them to Gaza-based terrorist groups, and committed further unspeakable acts of violence, including sexual violence. Is my right hon. Friend aware of those reports, and does he share my concerns about Hamas’s ongoing indoctrination of ordinary Gazan citizens?

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 good point. I am aware of those reports. The fact remains that the appalling events of 7 October were, as I have said in the House before, the worst atrocity and the worst killing of Jewish people since the holocaust and the second world war. We continue to want total accountability for the terrible events that took place on that day.

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

Accepting what the Minister says about there being no money due to go to UNRWA until April, can I say to him, however, that for us to continue not to fund UNRWA sends a truly dreadful signal to other countries on the world stage? Canada and Sweden have resumed their funding. Surely we should be attending to this now as a matter of some urgency?

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 listed the countries that take the same view as us. The right hon. Gentleman is right that there is a division, but Britain is not due to provide any funding until we reach the next financial year in April. We will, of course, seek to do everything we can to resolve the matter by the time that funding is due.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

Can the deputy Foreign Secretary confirm that Israel is co-operating with an increasing number of lorries entering Gaza carrying essential humanitarian aid? I have been looking up the figures: 16,405 aid lorries, 203,300 tonnes of food and 26,160 tonnes of water. Is it not correct that the Israelis have said there is no limit on the amount of aid that can come in, but that there is a delay once it has passed Israeli checks and before it gets into Gaza proper?

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. and learned Friend is right to say that there has been an increase in the number of trucks getting in. In February there were, on average, only 97. In March that figure is 162. So there has been an improvement, but the House will recognise that there is nothing like enough getting through. The easiest way to do so is by truck and road. It is because that is so difficult that we have had to find other mechanisms, such as the maritime and air routes.

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

May I return the Minister to the serious allegations made today, following a BBC investigation, that medics in Gaza were detained, stripped and beaten while trying to perform their life-saving humanitarian duties? All of us in the House have repeatedly called on all parties to abide by international law, but the Government have so far declined to say that the provisional measures of the International Court of Justice should be implemented in full. Will he now tell us that they should be, and that the UK will support the International Criminal Court investigation, led by Andrew Cayley, to ensure not only that all allegations against all parties are investigated, but that there is accountability for those who break the 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)

The hon. Lady is quite right: there needs to be a full and thorough investigation and accountability in respect of what was reported today by the BBC, and I can assure her that the Foreign Office is pressing for full transparency and accountability on that matter.

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

But surely the Minister can see the problem. Unless the ICJ’s provisional ruling is implemented and the ICC is allowed to go about its work, those words are simply meaningless; and unless the international community makes it crystal clear that rules will be upheld by all parties and those who do not uphold them will be held accountable, more people will die. Peace is built on the bedrock of international law. May I ask the Minister again to make it clear to the House that the Government will support the ICC’s investigation of Hamas as well as its investigation of Israel and will press for the full implementation of the ICJ’s provisional ruling, and that international law will be upheld not when it is convenient but always, as the precondition for peace?

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 be very clear about this: we did not believe, and do not believe, that the ICJ referral is helpful to attempts to secure dialogue. We respect the role and independence of the ICJ and will consider any advisory opinion, but we did not think it helpful, without the consent of both parties, for the Court to deliver an advisory opinion on what is essentially a bilateral dispute. However, we keep all these matters under review and, as I have said, our current position is that we believe Israel has both the capacity and the intent to abide by international humanitarian law.

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

The Minister will have seen the shocking images of parachutes dropping aid into Gaza at the same moment as a barrage of Israeli missiles struck. There is, of course, every chance that the aid and the missiles originated from the same source, and I wonder at the level of cognitive dissonance required to supply aid to innocent civilians while at the same time providing the means by which Israel can continue to kill them indiscriminately. When will this Government recognise the moral absurdity of selling weapons to Israel while attempting to salve their conscience by airdropping aid to those civilians who are fortunate enough to have survived the bombardment?

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 I have mentioned to the hon. Gentleman before, in this country we have the toughest arms control mechanisms anywhere, but we accept that Israel has a right of self-defence, and this has to be seen through that prism as well as the prism through which he sees it. But I can tell him that we continually keep these matters under review—that is not only international humanitarian law, but the arms export regime—and we will continue to do so.