The Secretary of State for International Development visited Gaza on 1 March 2009. He was accompanied by John Ging, the UN Relief and Works Agency's Director for Gaza. The Secretary of State saw for himself the level of destruction in Gaza and met with people affected by the conflict. He also discussed relief efforts with the representatives of UK Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
Officials from the Department for International Development regularly visit Gaza to assess the humanitarian situation and keep in close contact with NGOs and-United Nations agencies. The Secretary of State receives regular briefings regarding the situation on the ground.
The UK consistently presses the Government of Israel to ease border restrictions and permit the flow of humanitarian aid and reconstruction material into Gaza. The Secretary of State for International Development raised this issue in a telephone call with the Israeli Defence Minister in December. The UK has also raised the need for improved access in several international fora, including the UN Security Council on 17 December 2009.
We shall continue to take all appropriate opportunities to press for improved access into Gaza, full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1860 and full respect of international humanitarian law.
Although there is no permanent physical Israeli presence in Gaza, given the significant control that Israel has over Gaza’s borders, airspace and territorial waters, Israel retains obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention as an occupying power. These include an obligation to facilitate the transfer of humanitarian aid into Gaza. We are extremely concerned by the continued restrictions on materials entering Gaza and will continue to press the Israeli Government to ease their restrictions.
We have serious concerns about the Israeli restrictions on Gaza and the impact they have on the lives of Gazans. Although there is no permanent physical Israeli presence in Gaza, given the significant control that Israel has over Gaza’s borders, airspace and territorial waters, Israel retains obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention as an occupying power. The Fourth Geneva Convention is clear that an occupying power must co-operate in allowing the passage and distribution of relief consignments. The restrictions currently imposed on the passage of relief supplies are, as we see it, a disproportionate response to the security threat.
The extent of Israeli restrictions, and the threat to Israel from militants in Gaza, varies constantly. Rather than focus on whether the restrictions at any given time, amount to collective punishment, we have consistently pressed the Israeli Government to comply with their obligations under international law and allow passage of relief supplies. Although aid is entering Gaza, according to the United Nations this is insufficient to meet the needs of the Gazan people.