UK government backs Israel’s bombardment of Gaza

Minister says Israel has ‘legitimate right to defend itself’ as Gaza death tolls hits 217, including 63 children

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Thursday 20 May 2021 19:24
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UK government backs Israel’s bombardment of Gaza

The British government has given its strongest statement yet in support of Israel's bombardment of Gaza, saying the country has a "legitimate right to defend itself".

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday Middle East minister James Cleverly made only a brief mention of making sure "all actions are proportionate" and avoiding civilian casualties.

He focused condemnation of "acts of terrorism by Hamas" and said Israel was reacting to provocation by Hamas.

"The UK unequivocally condemns the firing of rockets at Jerusalem and other locations within Israel," Mr Cleverly said.

"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."

At least 217 people, including 63 children, have been killed in Gaza since Israel's airstrikes resumed a week ago, with some 1,500 Palestinians also wounded.

Rockets fired by the militant group Hamas, which also runs Gaza's government, have killed 12 people in Israel, two of whom were children.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran, who is of British-Palestinian heritage, said of the deaths of children:

"My heart was broken before, it's shattered now. We need a ceasefire and the UK shouldn't have left it to France to be the main sponsor of a UN resolution calling for it. This Government is shirking its historic responsibility and it's time to step up."

Labour MP Richard Burgon added: "How many Palestinian children have to be killed, how many more Palestinian homes have to be reduced to rubble, how many more Palestinian schools and hospitals have to be bombed before the British government takes the action necessary to finally force the Israeli government to stop its war on the Palestinian people?

"Surely now is the time for all UK weapons sales to Israel to be stopped. Surely now is the time for sanctions on the Israeli government for its repeated violations of international law. Surely now is the time - this House voted for it back in 2014 - to recognise the state of Palestine because Palestine has the right to exist."

In response, Mr Cleverly laid out what he said was the "sequencing" of the latest conflict – stating that Mr Burgeon should understand that "Israel's actions were in response to indiscriminate rocket attacks from an internationally recognised terrorist organisation".

However, the rocket attacks began after Israeli security forces attacked worshipers at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. That followed protests by Palestinians over the eviction of Palestinian families from occupied East Jerusalem

In his own contribution, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn questioned the nature of "Britain's military relationship with Israel".

"Can he tell the House if any weapons sold by Britain or munitions sold by Britain to Israel have been used to bomb places in Gaza or if any drone equipment supplied or bought by Britain has been used as a surveillance method on either the West Bank or Gaza that has been followed up by destruction of civilian life and the death of many people?" he said.

Foreign Office minister Mr Cleverly replied: "The UK has a robust arms export licensing regime and all export licences are assessed in accordance with it."

Official figures collated by Campaign Against the Arms Trade show that since the Conservative government was elected in May 2015 the UK has licensed over £400 million worth of arms to Israeli forces, including aircraft, bombs, armoured vehicles, and ammunition.

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