Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Lord Cameron warns of ‘arms embargo’ to Israel as international pressure mounts

The UK is said to be undertaking an assessment into whether Israel is still abiding by its international obligations

Zoe Grunewald
Friday 22 March 2024 09:15 GMT
Lord Cameron has warned of the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza

The UK government has warned Israel that it could withhold weapons if the Red Cross is not given access to imprisoned Hamas fighters, according to Israeli media.

Foreign secretary Lord Cameron is said to have warned Israeli officials that an “arms embargo” could be declared in Europe if Israel continue to withhold access to prisoners, according to the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper on Thursday.

The caution follows reports that the UK government was considering withholding arms if Israel invaded the Gazan city of Rafah, after Lord Cameron wrote to parliament’s foreign affairs select committee saying that he could not see how an offensive in Rafah could go ahead without harming civilians and destroying homes.

The former prime minister expressed his “deep concern” about the prospect of an offensive.

“We do not underestimate the devastating humanitarian impacts that a full ground offensive, if enacted, would have in these circumstances,” he said.

He added: “We continue to urge Israel to ensure that it limits its operations to military targets and take all possible steps to avoid harming civilians and destroying homes.”

British officials have now reportedly demanded that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) be allowed to visit Hamas prisoners in Israel to ensure adherence to international law.

The Foreign Secretary said Israel had an ‘obligation to ensure significantly more humanitarian aid reached the people of Gaza’ (PA Wire)

Yedioth Ahronoth also reported that British lawyers visited Israel to examine the issue and issued advice that all prisoners in Israel, including the Hamas suspects, should be allowed a visit by the Red Cross.

Chair of the foreign affairs committee Alicia Kearns told LBC she expected the government to publish a decision on whether or not Israel is still upholding international law and whether it would continue to provide weapons “within the week”.

She said: “I pushed the government last week and again this week on whether or not our assessment has changed or whether or not international law is being upheld by Israel. And the answer was that we are currently undertaking the assessment and we will go back to the house shortly.”

She added: “If we don’t hear that within the week, I would be very surprised.”

Lord Cameron’s alleged challenge to the Israeli government comes amid mounting pressure on Western nations to prevent the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

Canada’s house of commons moved to halt future arms sales to Israel following a non-binding vote earlier in the week.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has warned Israel it had a legal responsibility to address the “urgent and monumental” humanitarian needs of Palestinians in Gaza.

The Most Rev Justin Welby said international law called for the “rapid and unimpeded” passage of humanitarian relief for civilians but he accused the Israeli government of preventing access.

The archbishop warned that if nothing changes then “famine is imminent”, with children already dying from starvation and dehydration.

He said: “Israel’s prosecution of this war has destroyed large parts of the Gaza Strip – decimating infrastructure essential to human survival.”

The UK will not disclose the arms export licences granted to Israel in the final quarter of last year until later this year. In 2022 the UK granted export licences to Israel worth £42m.

A FCDO spokesperson said: “We keep advice on Israel’s adherence to International Humanitarian Law under review and will act in accordance with that advice.

“All export licence applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis against the Strategic Export Licensing Criteria.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in