Many constituents have contacted me about the terrible events in Rafah and more widely across Gaza.

The recent horrifying attack which killed at least 45 Palestinian civilians is tragic evidence of the humanitarian disaster caused by the ground offensive in Rafah. Keir Starmer has called on Israel to “Stop”.

On 13 May, the Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy said “Labour has been opposed to an Israeli offensive in Rafah for months and has been clear it must not go ahead. This was part of Labour’s motion that passed the House of Commons in February and it is one of the reasons we have been calling on David Cameron to publish a summary of the legal advice with regards to arms sales. President Biden is correct to tell Prime Minister Netanyahu that the US will not supply weapons that could be used in a Rafah offensive if Israel proceeds with a full-scale attack on Rafah against the international community’s warnings… The UK Government should now work with the US to try and prevent a Rafah offensive by being clear it will assess UK exports and, if the Rafah offensive goes ahead, join our American allies in suspending weapons or components that could be used in that Rafah offensive.”

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) and the recent attack on Rafah. The killing of three British aid workers – among others from World Central Kitchen – in an Israeli strike was horrifying and completely unacceptable. 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 which has called on Israel to stop its operation in Rafah.

The Labour Party supports an immediate ceasefire. 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. Our thoughts must also, of course, be with the families of all of those in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza who have lost their lives since 7th October.

There 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, although more recently there have been reports of attempts by protestors in Israel to block some aid supplies.

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, there seems to be 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.

Best wishes

Rt Hon Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central

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