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Relief Effort (Gaza)

Volume 585: debated on Wednesday 3 September 2014

2. What her Department’s role is in the relief effort for people affected by the situation in Gaza. (905125)

3. What her Department’s role is in the relief effort for people affected by the situation in Gaza. (905126)

5. What her Department’s role is in the relief effort for people affected by the situation in Gaza. (905128)

The United Kingdom is one of the largest donors. We have spent some £17 million in emergency aid. We are providing food and essential supplies to families in desperate need. We are repairing the water infrastructure and providing counselling to those who have been traumatised.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his promotion and thank him for his answer. As the House knows, children have borne the brunt of the recent conflict: 500 have died, 1,000 are permanently disabled and half a million cannot go to school. Yet the UN’s appeal is only half funded. What is the Department doing to get other members of the international community to play their part?

The hon. Lady is quite right. From our rapid reaction facility, we have specifically earmarked funds for the assistance of children. With respect to encouraging others to step up to the plate as we have done, there will undoubtedly be a donors’ conference soon, but that will be immeasurably assisted by a meaningful peace process.

The conflict in Gaza has displaced almost 1.8 million people—one quarter of the inhabitants of Gaza—and they are of all ages. Will the Minister say what his Department is doing to provide relief for the mainly disabled and elderly people in Gaza who have been displaced?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Some 58,000 people are currently sheltering in UN relief agency schools, and 100,000 people have no home to return to. Clearly, there must be a rebuilding effort, but that will require substantial movement on access into and out of Gaza, and that will require a peace process that can proceed.

The answer to that question was helpful, because the people of Gaza have been denied the right to the essentials of daily life for many, many years because of the illegal blockade, and they now depend on the Israeli Government or the tunnels in order to get aid. Does the Minister agree that it is a necessity to end the blockade, and what will his Department and others do to achieve that?

The hon. Gentleman is right. The UN report suggested that even before this latest round of hostilities, Gaza would become uninhabitable by 2020—before it had started to be smashed to smithereens. Clearly, there must be movement on access if Gaza is to have a viable economic future. What are we doing about that? We are contributing to a peace process, and our primary aim in this Department is to bring relief to those who are in want.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the work that his Department is doing with the Foreign Office to help address the underlying causes of the conflict in Gaza, and to work towards a two-state solution?

We believe that a two-state solution is the only realistic game in town, and to that end we are spending considerable sums of money in support of the Palestinian Authority, in order to get it into the habit of good governance, so that democratic institutions can flourish. We are also investing considerably in private sector development so that there will be economic growth, in order that a future state should be both stable and prosperous.

The Minister mentioned the UN relief agency schools. Is he as appalled as I am that those so-called safe havens were bombed and people within them killed, and what is his Department doing with others in the international community to ensure that those are safe havens?

As I said, some 58,000 people are now sheltering in these schools. It is absolutely right that breaches of international law on both sides be investigated, and we will be vigilant in that process.

12. I very much welcome the Minister’s comments about the provision of aid, but has any consideration been given to the fact that much of the damage may have been caused by weaponry, or parts of weapons, that were sold to Israel with UK Government approval? (905135)

As the Prime Minister made clear in his statement on Monday, there has been a thorough review of export licences and proper procedures have been put in place. In fact, 12 licences were identified where a component part could possibly have been used in an offensive capacity. Those licences will be suspended if there is a return to significant hostilities.

May I press the Minister a little more on the question of the blockade? If I understood him correctly, he said that a peace process needs to be got going in order to lift the blockade, but my understanding of the ceasefire is that an easing of the blockade, at least, comes first. That is a way of getting to the peace process. The aid needs to be going in now. What is the Government’s position? Is it pressing for the blockade to be lifted now?

My understanding of the ceasefire arrangements is that they, in effect, restore the status quo ante with respect to the Rafah crossing. But if we are to see a significant easing of the restrictions and economic development, there must be much greater access, and that means that Israel’s legitimate security concerns must be taken into account and allayed.

10. My right hon. Friend has rightly highlighted that even before the latest Israeli action the people of Gaza faced a pressing humanitarian crisis, caused, for example, by the salination of the aquifer, with all drinking water becoming undrinkable quite soon afterwards. Is there anything that his Department can do now of a practical nature, not dependent on the peace process, to improve the longer-term situation in Gaza?

(905133)

We are taking action now: we have deployed funds from our rapid reaction facility precisely to deal with the water issue. But in the long term, the salination and desalination has to be taken into account, and that will require a very substantial investment in the infrastructure.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new role and pay tribute to his predecessor. The 3,000 injured children in Gaza and the 100,000 Palestinians made homeless whom the Minister mentioned need uninterrupted help from humanitarian agencies such as the Red Cross. The situation is still urgent. What specific steps has he taken with the Foreign Office and others to encourage both Israeli and Palestinian actors to ensure safe, continuous access for those working to aid the recovery in Gaza?

We continually make representations to the Israelis with respect to making access easier. The hon. Lady is quite right: many of those children have life-changing injuries. The NGOs who have to negotiate access to Gaza currently incur costs of some £6 million a year to do so, and that is not acceptable.

13. Although I recognise that both the Israelis and the Egyptians have offered humanitarian aid during the crisis, I am keen to press the Minister on what his Department could do immediately to ensure supplies of medicine and medical aid to the people of Gaza. (905137)

We have supplied emergency aid to the International Committee of the Red Cross, to which we gave £3 million, and through our rapid reaction facility to other NGOs.