Britain has called for a UN investigation looking at why “such a volume” of live ammunition was used by Israeli troops against Palestinian protestors in Gaza.
Foreign minister Alistair Burt said UK diplomats were already “urgently” working towards trying to establish an inquiry, after violence that left 58 dead followed Donald Trump’s move to formally recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
But the UK stopped short of linking the deaths of protestors to the US decision, as it attempted to walk a tight diplomatic line between condemning the violence and not directly apportioning blame.
In a statement released after meeting her cabinet, Theresa May focussed both on action from Israel’s armed forces and “extremist” elements that were seeking to exploit the protests on the Palestinian side.
Mr Burt was speaking to the Commons during an emergency session called by shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, who had cited allegations of excessive violence from Israeli soldiers.
The minister said: “The United Kingdom has been clear in calling for, urgently, a need to establish the facts of what happened, including why such a volume of live fire was used.
“We are supportive of that independent, transparent investigation. Already, our team at the United Nations are in work with others in relation to what we can do in relation to that.
“There are different forms of inquiry that are possible through the United Nations, but we have to find the right formula.”
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, who asked the question, said the violence was the culmination of a “calculated and deliberate policy to kill and maim unarmed protesters” who had posed no threat to the forces on the Gaza border.
She argued that many of the victims had been shot in the back, hundreds of metres from the border, and pointed out that many of them were children.
In hard hitting comments, she went on: “And if we are in any doubt about the lethal intent of the Israeli snipers working on the border, I’m afraid we only need to look at the wounds suffered by their victims.
“On hunting websites in America, they regularly debate the merits of 7.6mm bullets versus the 5.5mm bullets. The latter, they say, is effective when you want to wound multiple internal organs, while the former is preferred by some because, and I quote, ‘it is designed to mushroom and fragment, to do maximum internal damage to the animal’.
“And it was this ammunition, it is alleged, that was used in Gaza yesterday against men, women and children.”
Labour MP Andy Slaughter later urged the government to suspend arms sales to Israel and give an “unqualified condemnation” of its actions, while Tooting MP Rosena Allin-Khan called on the government to condemn Mr Trump’s decision and cancel a pending visit from the president next month.
Ministers discussed the situation in Gaza at the weekly meeting of the cabinet where Ms May urged both sides to “show restraint and refrain from any further violence”.
In a statement, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said the government was “extremely concerned” by the scale of the violence, describing the loss of life and injuries to the Palestinians as “tragic”.
“It is extremely worrying that the number of those killed continues to rise. Such violence is destructive to peace efforts. We call on all sides to show restraint and refrain from any further violence,” he said.
“Palestinians have the right to protest but these protests must be peaceful. We are concerned that extremist elements may be seeking to hijack peaceful protests to further their own objectives.
“Israel has the right to defend its borders and we do not question that. However the use of live fire is deeply troubling and has led to significant loss of life. We urge Israel to show greater restraint.”
The spokesperson also set out the government’s position on the US moving its embassy to Israel to Jerusalem, saying the UK “disagreed” with it and that Britain’s diplomatic centre in the country would remain in Tel Aviv.
But pressed on whether the UK believed the violence was directly caused by Mr Trump’s embassy move, the spokesperson said only: “It’s a complex picture. I don’t have that information.”
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