Gaza conflict ‘increasingly intolerable’ says Rishi Sunak as he backs Joe Biden’s ceasefire calls

Rishi Sunak defended the government’s position and suggested it would not be “appropriate” for officials to stop work relating to the sale of arms to Israel

Zoe Grunewald
Wednesday 10 April 2024 10:44 BST
Joe Biden rebuked Israel’s approach to the conflict in Gaza as a ‘mistake’

Rishi Sunak has backed Joe Biden’s calls for a 6-8 week ceasefire in Gaza to allow food and medicine to go into the country, following a significant intervention from the US president overnight where he called Israel’s approach to the conflict “a mistake”.

The prime minister said Mr Biden and he were “very aligned on this” and that he had consistently called for an “immediate humanitarian pause so that we can get the hostages out.”

Mr Sunak added: “We want to get aid in to help alleviate the suffering and then use that as a platform to build a sustainable ceasefire.”

His comments come on the back of building domestic and international pressure on Israel to bring an end to the conflict in Gaza mounts following the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Palestine that has seen the death of over 30,000 people and the killing of seven aid workers - including three British citizens - by Israeli airstrikes.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Jordan Pettitt/PA) (PA Wire)

Joe Biden has strengthened his language on Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach to the war in Gaza as a “mistake”, in one of his strongest rebukes of the Israeli prime minister’s response to the ongoing conflict so far.

The president made the remarks during an interview with Univision, aired on Tuesday evening, in which he said the recent missile strikes on aid convoys in the Middle East were “outrageous” and called for a halt in the fighting.

Asked during the interview whether Mr Netanyahu was “more concerned about his political survival” than the national interest of his people, the president replied: “Well, I will tell you, I think what he’s doing is a mistake. I don’t agree with his approach.”

He continued: “I think it’s outrageous that those four, three vehicles were hit by drones and taken out on a highway where it wasn’t like it was along the shore, it wasn’t like there was a convoy moving there.”

Mr Biden said he was calling for the Israelis to call a ceasefire for six to eight weeks to allow “total access” for all food and medicine supplies going into Gaza.

Asked on LBC if Mr Sunak supported the US president’s comments that Mr Netanyahu’s approach was a “mistake”, the prime minister said he had been “very clear with Netanyahu” that the UK was “shocked and appalled by what happened particularly to the Brits who helped him bring aid into Gaza recently”.

He added: “The current situation is appalling. And we want to see alleviation to people who are going through a very tough time and we’re doing our bit but we need the Israelis to open up more crossings and help facilitate more aid going in.”

Joe Biden rebuked Israel’s approach to the conflict in Gaza as a ‘mistake’ (AP)

Foreign secretary Lord David Cameron announced that the UK will not suspend arms exports to Israel despite “grave concerns” about Gaza and mounting pressure from politicians and judges across the UK.

The foreign secretary said he had reviewed the latest legal advice to ministers on whether Israel is breaking humanitarian law in its war on Hamas.

The “ultimate judgement” was that the export licences “will continue” despite the killing of seven aid workers in an air strike last week.

Mr Sunak defended the UK’s decision not to suspend arms sales to Israel, saying “none of our closest allies” have stopped existing export licences but added Mr Netanyahu “needs to do more” to alleviate suffering in Gaza.

The prime minister said: “It was a shocking tragedy what happened to our veterans when they were selflessly carrying out aid missions into Gaza and I’ve also said repeatedly the situation in Gaza is increasingly intolerable, you know, the humanitarian suffering that people are experiencing isn’t right and Prime Minister Netanyahu needs to do more to alleviate that.

“I’ve made that very clear to him.”

Mr Sunak said the UK has a “long-established process” relating to the arms export regime and “we review these things regularly”.

“That’s led to no change. Actually, none of our closest allies have currently suspended existing arms licences either, so we continue to discuss these things with our allies.”

Rishi Sunak also said that civils servants should “work to the civil service code” when asked about concerns over whether Israel’s actions in Gaza are in breach of international humanitarian law.

The prime minister suggested it would not be “appropriate” for officials to stop work relating to the sale of arms, following reports that officials in the department for business and trade (DBT) raised concerns with senior civil servants that they may be liable if it is deemed Israel has broken international law.

“That’s not something I’m familiar with, I don’t think that would be appropriate,” he told LBC.

“We have a civil service code. All civil servants should work to the civil service code.”

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