The UK government has backed Israel in the current conflict in Palestine, saying that Tel Aviv “has a legitimate right to self-defence and to defend its citizens from attack.”
James Cleverly, the Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa, told Parliament yesterday that the UK “unequivocally condemns the firing of rockets at Jerusalem and other locations within Israel. We strongly condemn these acts of terrorism by Hamas and other terrorist groups, who must permanently end their incitement and rocket fire against Israel. There is no justification for the targeting of civilians.
“Israel has a legitimate right to self-defence and to defend its citizens from attack. In doing so, it is vital that all actions are proportionate, in line with international humanitarian law and make every effort to avoid civilian casualties.
“We are aware of medical institutions, a number of schools and many homes in Gaza that have been destroyed or seriously damaged, and we are concerned that buildings housing media and humanitarian organisations such as Qatar Red Crescent have been destroyed. We call on Israel to adhere to the principles of necessity and proportionality when defending its legitimate security interests.”
Cleverly also took aim at Palestinian resistance group Hamas.
“We are also concerned by reports that Hamas is once again using civilian infrastructure and populations as a cover for its military operations,” he said. “Humanitarian access is essential, and we urge all parties to allow the unimpeded entry of vital humanitarian supplies. Hamas and other terrorist groups must cease their mortar attacks on these crossings. We urge all parties to work together to reduce tensions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The UK is clear that the historic status quo in Jerusalem must be respected. Violence against peaceful worshippers of any faith is unacceptable.”
But the minister told Parliament that the UK was working to secure a ceasefire.
He said: “We are urging the parties to work with mediators towards an immediate ceasefire to prevent further loss of life and a worsening humanitarian situation. We are supporting United Nations, Egyptian and Qatari efforts to that end, and we work closely with the United States.”
He added: The UK position on evictions, demolitions and settlements is clear and long-standing: we oppose these activities. We urge the Government of Israel to cease their policies related to settlement expansion immediately and instead work towards a two-state solution. The UK will continue our intensive diplomatic efforts in the region focused on securing a ceasefire and creating the conditions for a sustainable peace.”
In response, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn questioned Britain’s arms sales to Israel.
He said: “Can he (Cleverly) tell the House whether any munitions sold by Britain to Israel have been used to bomb places in Gaza, and whether any drone equipment supplied by Britain or bought by Britain has been used as a surveillance method on either the West Bank or Gaza and followed up by the destruction of civilian life and the death of many people, including the tragedy of the deaths of whole families and children? Our public need to know exactly the nature of that military relationship with Israel. Of course, the Minister rightly says that the Occupied Territories, which are occupied by Israel, are the places that suffer as a result of this bombardment.”
Cleverly replied: “The UK has a robust arms export licensing regime, and all export licences are assessed in accordance with it. I can assure the Right Honourable Gentleman that the UK takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously. I would also remind him that Israel is responding to rockets fired at it from an organisation closely associated with Iran. We would urge all nations to take their arms export responsibilities as seriously as the UK does.”
Meanwhile, Israeli fighter jets continued to pound the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least one Palestinian and wounding several more as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defied calls for a de-escalation.
At least 227 Palestinians have been killed in 11 days of violence. On the Israeli side, 12 people have been killed.