Labour questions continued arms exports to Israel with Rafah humanitarian crisis

Labour pressed deputy foreign minister Andrew Mitchell on arms sales to Israel as he responded to an urgent question in the Commons

David Maddox
Political editor
Tuesday 07 May 2024 19:25 BST
Israeli tank drives over 'I love Gaza' sign as military takes control of Rafah crossing

David Lammy moved Labour closer to calling for an outright ban on arms sales to Israel as the row over the Middle East crisis exploded in the House of Commons.

With Labour under pressure from its own MPs and activists to take a harder line against Israel on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Mr Lammy used an urgent question to ratchet up his party’s position.

It follows concerns in the party leadership that Muslims and others are not voting Labour because of its position on the conflict.

But with Israeli tanks moving on Rafah, Mr Lammy made it clear to Tory deputy foreign secretary Andrew Mitchell that banning arms sales to Israel should now be on the table.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy
Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy (PA)

He said: “The French government said the forced displacement of any civilian population is a war crime. Does the minister agree?

“Hamas is a terrorist organisation, its cowardly tactics are reprehensible but that does not stop Israel’s obligation to follow the rules of war or the government’s obligation on arms exports.

“Can the minister say why he thinks than attack on Rafah does not present a clear risk of a serious breach of international humanitarian law?

“Can he confirm whether he has received any assessment that the threshold has already been met.”

The shadow foreign secretary had condemned Hamas’s terrorism as well as the military action of Israel, including bombing tightly populated areas.

But an intense session in the Commons saw anger on both sides with the left of the Labour Party pressurising for a ban on arms sales but the right of the Tories demanding that the government supports Israel’s attempts to “eliminate Hamas”.

Andrew Mitchell voiced concerns about the current situation in Gaza
Andrew Mitchell voiced concerns about the current situation in Gaza (PA)

Rightwing former home secretary Suella Braverman drew cries of anger when she intervened demanding full support for Israel’s hardline actions.

She said: “Yesterday I met with survivors of the Nova festival massacre. I met with people who fought single handedly for hours against brutal Hamas terrorists.

“We all want peace but sometimes countries must fight for peace. Israel has a right to defend herself and a duty to protect her people from the brutal terrorism cult of Hamas.

“Will you confirm that the British government will maintain its steadfast and resolute support for Israel as she finishes the job to eliminate Hamas from Gaza?”

The Conservative MP for Bracknell James Sunderland said: “Given the increasing compression of that population in Rafah in a much, much smaller geographical area, the need for precision, restraint and proportionality from the Israelis is ever more acute.”

He added that “everything possible to convince the Israelis of the need to preserve the sanctity of human life” should be done.

Rochdale MP George Galloway, who recently won a by-election on the Gaza issue, said the government is not doing all it can over the Gaza conflict, and called for an export ban on weapons to Israel.

The Workers Party of Britain MP said: “The situation has escalated, but the government’s response remains the same.”

An Israeli tank near the Gaza border
An Israeli tank near the Gaza border (AP)

He continued: “There are 600,000 child hostages in Rafah alone. There is no proof of life from them, but millions of our people are watching on their phone today the proof of death and mutilation of many of them.

“The government say they are doing everything they can, but they are not, because you could now stop sending weapons to the people who are raining down this death and misery. And the Labour Party could actually ask you too, but didn’t.”

Mr Mitchell said: “The policies we are pursuing are long term and they are designed to tackle the evils that have been so clearly set out this afternoon in the House.”

He added that the UK has been helping children in Gaza through medical aid, including through its field hospital near the city.

Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham, Yardley, told the Commons: “What he is saying, between the lines, is that Israel has currently breached the rule that the UK has set.

“And I don’t think he wants to say it here, but that is what I am hearing, so if there is no credible plan to move those people, and attack is ongoing, when can we expect if not today an update on the UK’s position towards Israel, arms sales, and other things that have been mentioned today from this despatch box?”

Mr Mitchell replied: “I have given her the update from the despatch box insofar as there is an update to give.”

He added: “We have not seen a credible plan for military action in Rafah so far, and therefore we are not able to judge whether or not it will be in accordance with international humanitarian law.”

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