Thank you to those constituents who have contacted me about the terrible events in Gaza.

Over the past few months we have seen an intolerable loss of civilian life and an unacceptable humanitarian disaster in Gaza. I believe that there needs to be an urgent and independent investigation into the discovery of mass graves outside the Nasser and al-Shifa hospitals in Gaza (hospitals should never be targeted). The killing of three British aid workers – among others from World Central Kitchen – in an Israeli strike was horrifying and completely unacceptable. Our thoughts are with the families of all of those who lost their lives since 7th October.

A ground offensive in Rafah would be a humanitarian disaster, as well as risking a ceasefire and hostage deal. It must not go ahead and the extreme and dangerous rhetoric from Ministers like Smotrich must be condemned.

Hamas must release and return all hostages; and Israel and Hamas should abide by the international calls, including by the United Nations Security Council, for an immediate ceasefire, leading to a political process and a lasting peace which is observed by all sides. Labour supports an immediate ceasefire.

There also needs to be a surge of aid into Gaza in view of the reports of desperate shortages and people going hungry. Future funding for UNWRA must be restored. Since the latest UN Security Council resolution, the UN reports that Israel has taken a number of steps to improve aid delivery, including an increase in the volume of aid cleared, inspected and crossed into Gaza, the temporary opening of the Erez crossing and the opening of the Ashdod port for humanitarian goods as well as repairing the Nahal Oz water supply line. In addition, the new landing facility that is being provided by the Americans should be in place in early May.

As you may have seen, on 21 February the House of Commons agreed a Labour proposal, which I supported, calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. This was very important because it was the first time Parliament had done so. The full text of the motion was as follows:

That this House believes that an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah risks catastrophic humanitarian consequences and therefore must not take place; notes the intolerable loss of Palestinian life, the majority being women and children; condemns the terrorism of Hamas who continue to hold hostages; supports Australia, Canada and New Zealand’s calls for Hamas to release and return all hostages and for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, which means an immediate stop to the fighting and a ceasefire that lasts and is observed by all sides, noting that Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence and that Israelis have the right to the assurance that the horror of 7 October 2023 cannot happen again; therefore supports diplomatic mediation efforts to achieve a lasting ceasefire; demands that rapid and unimpeded humanitarian relief is provided in Gaza; further demands an end to settlement expansion and violence; urges Israel to comply with the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures; calls for the UN Security Council to meet urgently; and urges all international partners to work together to establish a diplomatic process to deliver the peace of a two-state solution, with a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state, including working with international partners to recognise a Palestinian state as a contribution to rather than outcome of that process, because statehood is the inalienable right of the Palestinian people and not in the gift of any neighbour.”

The task now is to actually get a ceasefire agreed so as to end the terrible loss of life. At the time of writing (7 May) there is a proposal on the table for a 40-day truce in return for the release of some hostages and Palestinians held in Israel, and the prospect of displaced families being allowed back to northern Gaza. It is being reported that Hamas has now accepted the deal, but Israel has not yet done so. It should do so immediately.

On defence exports, you will no doubt have seen that President Biden has warned Israel that the US will stop supplying some weapons if the IDF launches a major ground operation in the Gaza city of Rafah.

As for the UK, the Government says that the it does not directly provide or ship arms to Israel and that it keeps relevant licences under review and will not grant an export licence which is inconsistent with Strategic Export Licensing Criteria. This means UK arms exports should not be allowed if there is a risk they will be used for external aggression, internal repression or serious violations of international humanitarian law. Labour has already called on the Government to publish its legal advice on whether Israel has been following international law. If that advice says there is a clear risk that UK arms might be used in a serious breach of international humanitarian law, it’s time to suspend the sale of those arms.

There is widespread concern about Israel’s conduct in Gaza, including allegations from the UN, and it is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the International Court of Justice. This raises questions about compliance with the licensing criteria, which the Government has a duty to assess and address as part of any export process. It is crucial that the Government guarantees that export criteria will be applied rigorously and robustly to Israel in light of its conduct in Gaza.

Thank you once again for contacting me.

Best wishes

Rt Hon Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central

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