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Violence in the West Bank

Volume 735: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2023

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on the violence in the west bank.

The accelerating cycle of violence in the west bank risks another round of bloodshed and the Government are doing everything possible to urge the de-escalation of the situation. The latest operation by the Israel Defence Forces in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern west bank on Monday is the latest episode in a conflict that has become more worrying as the year has progressed. While the UK firmly supports Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens against terrorism, we urge the Israel Defence Forces to demonstrate restraint, adhere to the principles of international humanitarian law and prioritise the protection of civilians.

While the security situation today remains fragile, the UK welcomed Israeli and Palestinian engagement at meetings in Aqaba on 26 February and Sharm El Sheik on 19 March. We are clear-eyed that those meetings have not been a silver bullet, but they are an open, meaningful channel of communication between senior Israelis and Palestinians. At times of strife, this is important in assisting de-escalation and reducing violence. We have consistently engaged with both the Israelis and the Palestinians to urge them to de-escalate tensions and to support efforts towards renewed negotiations.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Israeli Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, on 26 June—when they discussed the security situation in the west bank—having spoken to the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, on 16 June. I can confirm that the Minister for the Middle East, Lord Ahmad, will be discussing the evolving situation with the Israeli ambassador later today, further to discussions in recent days. He also spoke to the Palestinian Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Maliki, on 5 May. Our ambassadors in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem regularly speak to both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to urge de-escalation and to make clear our expectation that all sides avoid unilateral steps that move the parties further away from dialogue.

Let me finally draw the House’s attention to the statement that the Foreign Secretary made jointly with his Canadian and Australian counterparts last Friday. The UK opposes Israel’s announced proposal to expand settlements across the west bank, and we ask Israel to halt and reverse its policy of supporting settlement expansion. Settlements are not the only obstacle to peace, but they are an important one, and our concerns about these recent steps are clear. The lives lost in this wider conflict are tragic. There is an urgent need for all parties to avoid further escalation in the west bank and Gaza, now and in the days ahead.

The past 24 hours have seen a horrifying military assault by the Israel Defence Forces on the overcrowded refugee camp in Jenin. The UN Refugee Agency says that about 15,000 people live in less than half a square kilometre in the camp, yet we have all witnessed on our screens the Israel Defence Forces launching air attacks, including attacks from drones, and they have sent in hundreds, if not thousands, of ground troops in the largest military action in the west bank for 20 years. News agencies are reporting 10 deaths of Palestinians, including three children, and 100 Palestinians injured, while the Palestinian Red Crescent says that it has evacuated 3,000 people. The UN’s Vanessa Huguenin has said:

“We are alarmed at the scale of air and ground operations that are taking place in Jenin”.

The World Health Organisation has said:

“First responders have been prevented from entering the refugee camp”.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority leadership has resolved to

“immediately petition the UN Security Council to implement Resolution 2334 and the relevant resolutions on providing international protection to the Palestinian people, stopping unilateral measures, and imposing sanctions on the occupying power.”

The UK currently holds the presidency of the UN Security Council and is therefore responsible for guiding its response to requests made by the Palestinian Authority. May I therefore ask the following questions? What are the UK Government doing in their capacity as President of the UN Security Council? How have they responded at the UN to the Palestinian Authority’s call for international protection? What has the Foreign Office said to its Israeli counterpart about the Israel Defence Forces preventing medical staff from accessing the Jenin refugee camp, or firing tear gas into hospitals sheltering children and elderly residents?

Finally, what steps will the Foreign Secretary take to review whether the IDF have made any use of UK arms sold to Israel in this attack? Will he immediately suspend all arms sales, including surveillance technology, and will he ban collaboration between the UK and Israel’s armed forces and military industries as a result of this horrific attack on civilians?

I thank the hon. Lady for bringing the urgent question to the House. This is a matter of deep concern to us all. We will continue to urge the Israel Defence Forces to demonstrate restraint in this operation so that all parties can try to avoid further escalation in the west bank and Gaza. As I have said, while the UK will always support Israel’s right to self-defence, the protection of civilians, particularly children, must always be prioritised, and we expect the armed forces’ conduct always to be in line with international humanitarian law. We therefore call on Israel to adhere to those principles of necessity and proportionality while defending its legitimate security interest.

We stand on the precipice of the Gaza crisis of 2023 and the third intifada. Yesterday, an Israeli military incursion into the Jenin refugee camp resulted in the deaths of more than 10 refugees. Hundreds were injured and, as the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) says, the ensuing gun battle has prevented civilians from getting the aid and medical care they need. Today, five Israeli civilians were killed in a terrorist car ramming and a stabbing, and we are in an endless cycle of violence. We need a return to the diplomatic table. Jordan and Egypt have been trying to facilitate that and stand ready to continue to do so, but they must see meaningful efforts to stand up for the agreements reached at previous meetings, such as the one in Aqaba.

I therefore call on the Government to try to secure the following. The Israelis must stop the expansion of illegal settlements; we are seeing that continue and it must stop—they agreed to do that at Aqaba. We must see Hamas end its terror attacks on Israel. They are wrong—they are terror attacks—and although we have no influence over Hamas, we must use our voice to make it clear that it must immediately stop. As the UK, can we urge our Israeli friends to show restraint? Can we appoint a middle east peace process envoy who can be tasked with spending their entire time working with our allies around the region to de-escalate the situation? Our voice is unique and will be heard, and we have a role to play in the peace process. Finally, will we use our UN Security Council presidency? Through that role, we can shed light on what is taking place.

I thank the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee for her salient and wise comments, as always. May I reiterate that on Friday the Foreign Secretary made a joint statement with the Canadians and Australians to set out very clearly our opposition to Israel’s announcement of the expansion of settlements across the west bank? We are asking Israel to halt and reverse that policy of settlement expansion with immediate effect.

More widely, of course, we recognise the very real security challenges facing Israel and the Palestinian Authority and condemn all terrorist groups planning and carrying out attacks, but we mourn the loss of innocent lives. Indeed, the injuries to civilians and particularly children are deeply concerning. We will continue to speak and our colleagues are speaking to our Israeli teams today about the urgent need for all parties to de-escalate and prevent the further loss of civilian life.

We must all be extremely concerned about the situation in the refugee camp in the city of Jenin, as well as the ongoing deteriorating situation in the conflict as a whole. Israel has the right to defend itself against militant groups, but that right must be exercised proportionately and in line with international law. I am therefore very concerned that reports suggest there are significant civilian casualties in Jenin. I am also aware that statements from the spokesman for the United Nations Secretary-General suggest that this military operation has not been conducted within the parameters of humanitarian law. The Secretary-General is said to be “deeply concerned” about the situation on the ground.

Likewise, I am extremely concerned about the breaking news of a suspected car ramming in Tel Aviv, where latest reports suggest that at least five people are injured. Can the Minister provide an urgent update on the situation? We will always condemn acts of terrorism, which only make peace harder to achieve.

On Jenin, I am concerned about reports that emergency health teams have been prevented from entering Jenin to treat the injured and to help people in general, and that two hospitals have been damaged. The World Health Organisation has reported that three children have recently been killed. I am sure that everyone in the House will agree that it is truly appalling that children—Palestinian and Israeli—continue to be the innocent victims in this conflict. Does the Minister agree that all civilian deaths must be thoroughly and impartially investigated and that there must be meaningful accountability?

Let me be clear that the Opposition will continue to be strong and consistent advocates of justice, human rights and international law in this conflict. We also condemn the unacceptable use of violence against civilians in all circumstances. In our view, there will be a lasting peace only when there is a negotiated diplomatic settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The only real solution will be a settlement based on two states: a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable and independent Palestinian state. We strongly oppose actions that make this two-state solution harder to achieve. So my fundamental question is: what of substance are the Minister and the Government doing to bring this immediate conflict to an end and to lay the foundations for a two-state solution?

I do not have the latest information on the Tel Aviv attack, but I understand that Hamas are claiming it as one of theirs. We absolutely condemn Hamas’s use of indiscriminate violence and attacks of this nature. There can never be any justification for such acts of violence, and we will continue to call on Hamas and other terrorist groups to permanently end their incitements against Israel. Importantly, Ministers and our ambassadors will continue to work very closely, today and in the days ahead, to urge the de-escalation of the present situation in Jenin.

Understanding that this comes in the context of, for years, Israel building settlements that block the route to a settlement of this dispute, and understanding that Israel is failing to show restraint, failing to follow international humanitarian law and failing to protect civilians, what are the Government actually going to do?

As I say, the statement that the Foreign Secretary put out with his Canadian and Australian counterparts last week set out a clear message to the Israelis about stopping the settlement expansion. We will continue to work with our friends and allies to make that message clearly heard.

Violence on all sides must be condemned. However, contrary to what the Minister said, illegal settlements are a barrier to peace, yet the UK Government continue to fail to take any meaningful action towards preventing that. This violence represents a serious escalation of tensions on the west bank. As we have heard, Palestinians and Israelis have lost their lives. What assessment has been made of the potential chain reaction of violence that this could unleash?

It has been confirmed that thousands of people have been displaced from the camp. What discussions has the Minister had with international colleagues on how to minimise the suffering of those refugees— civilians—who have now been displaced twice? This morning, UN aid agencies voiced alarm at the scale of Israel’s military operation in Jenin, reporting that water and energy supplies have been damaged, so will the UK Government commit to working with partners to provide additional humanitarian funding to restore these vital supplies for people there?

The UK’s position is clear: settlements are illegal under international law and they call into question Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution. So we have urged Israel to halt that settlement expansion, which is threatening the physical viability of a Palestinian state. To the hon. Gentleman’s point, we are working with our partners the United States, France, Germany and Italy to strongly oppose these unilateral steps.

I am afraid that I do not have the latest information on humanitarian funding, but our teams work very closely through the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and other humanitarian organisations. I would be happy to ask the relevant Minister to update the House later on what the latest commitments are.

Clearly, this morning’s car ramming is only the most recent of the terrorist attacks that have emanated from the city of Jenin. So far, Operation House and Garden has resulted in the destruction of three labs, hundreds of improvised explosive devices and thousands of grenades. Underneath the mosque, there were two tunnels with hundreds of weapons, and 120 people have been arrested. Clearly, the terrorist activity is going to be severely limited. Behind all this is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hamas and the Jenin battalions. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that this is a proportionate attempt to reduce terrorism against the state of Israel?

As I say, while the UK remains absolutely resolute in its commitment to Israel’s security, and we condemn absolutely the use of indiscriminate force by Hamas and other terrorist groups, we call on all parties to maintain a proportionate balance, so that we can de-escalate the existing situation and ensure that civilians are not caught up in this any more.

With water and electricity services in the Jenin refugee camp damaged as a result of the violence, camp residents are unable to move from their homes. Many are in urgent need of food, drinking water and medical support, but the ambulances have been prevented from reaching the wounded. Will the Secretary of State raise with the Israeli authorities the issue of access for ambulances and medical teams to the Jenin camp?

The FCDO Minister for the middle east, Lord Ahmad, will be listening to the debate and will be able to give an update in the other place later today about his ongoing discussions with Israeli counterparts.

Let us be clear: any loss of innocent civilian life is one too many. But let us also be clear that the Palestinian Authority has lost control over Jenin and it has become a safe haven for terrorists. Terror groups have fortified the area with IEDs and last week they fired rockets towards Israel from inside the camp. Iran has also boasted about arming, training and funding the Palestinian terror groups that operate there. Does the Minister agree that it is in the interests of both the Palestinians and the Israelis that terror groups cease these operations, which only further destabilise the Palestinian Authority and the region, with innocent people dying as a consequence?

We recognise the real security concerns facing Israel and the Palestinian Authority while they try to deal with those terrorist groups, and we condemn absolutely terrorist groups planning and carrying out attacks. To my hon. Friend’s point on the loss of innocent lives, every loss is one too many and there will also be a serious number of injuries to civilians. We continue to be deeply concerned by the cycle of violence in the west bank. The urgent need for all parties to de-escalate to prevent that loss of life remains critical.

Unless and until we acknowledge our own role in this developing tragedy, anything the Minister says at the Dispatch Box is essentially going to be meaningless. The increase in violence by the IDF and the expansion of settlement in the west bank happen because we and other countries in the west do nothing to hold Israel to account. So could the Minister tell us now: will she commit to supporting an International Criminal Court investigation into what is happening there? Will the Government here now set a timetable for the recognition of the Palestinian state?

This Government and Members on both sides of the House do not waver from the two-state solution that we all wish to see. As I have said, settlements are illegal under international law and we will continue, alongside allies and partners, to make that point clear. As for the ongoing activity today, I hope that Lord Ahmad will be able to pick up on that later today as progress is made with our counterparts in Israel.

But hasn’t our strategic partnership with Israel, announced in this House, afforded us any leverage over Israeli policy in the west bank?

Our strategic relationship with Israel is a strong and long-standing one. We work with Israel in many areas, from security to trade. It is an important partner. That does not negate the fact that we want to see a de-escalation of the current situation and to ensure that the loss of civilian lives is minimised.

I share the distress of others at the loss of civilian life. Islamic Jihad has already claimed several of the dead as Islamic Jihad fighters and, as we have heard, the Israelis say that the camp was used as a hub for terrorist operations. Does the Minister think any more can be done to prevent terrorists from embedding themselves among civilians, particularly in places such as refugee camps?

We recognise the security challenges that are faced and will continue to be faced, not only by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in this case, but elsewhere in the world, where innocents living in refugee camps are used as a cover for terrorists wishing to cause harm. We all have to continue to tackle that not only in the west bank, but around the world. Importantly, in this situation, we will all continue to urge de-escalation to reduce the risk of any further civilian casualties or loss of life.

This year has seen more Palestinians killed than in any other year, more settlement starts announced than in any other year, more demolitions in East Jerusalem than in any other year and more violence in general. We are on the precipice of another intifada. At the minute, it looks to me as though Israel is acting with impunity and this is an all-out assault on Palestinian life. So what actions will the Government undertake—not just conversations—to bring this dreadful escalation in violence to an end?

We are absolutely committed to working with all parties on the challenges associated with demolitions so that people remain calm and avoid provocation. But we are clear that in all but the most exceptional of circumstances demolitions and forced evictions are contrary to international humanitarian law. The practice causes unnecessary suffering to Palestinians and is harmful to efforts to promote peace. In particular, we are monitoring developments at Masafer Yatta closely and we have made our views clear to the Israeli Government on that matter.

Constituents have written to me about their grave concerns for the welfare of civilians and health workers in the Jenin camp. They, like me, know that the Israeli army enjoys a climate of impunity because the international community never holds Israel to account for its actions. Israel continues to breach international law, including the fourth Geneva convention. As we have heard already today, settlements are war crimes under the Rome statute. So my question for the Minister is: what specific actions will the Government take to ensure that Israel adheres to international law and that its leaders are held accountable for its war crimes?

As I say, we have been clear on this. My colleague in the other place will speak with the Israeli ambassador later today to ensure that we put forward the UK view that de-escalation is urgently required in this difficult situation and that we continue to tackle the questions associated with illegal settlements, which are contrary to humanitarian law.

When the Russians have bombed predominantly civilian areas, resulting in the death of civilians, we have rightly condemned it as a war crime. Why have the Government not condemned these actions, which are resulting in the loss of civilian life, as a war crime? Have the Government called in the Israeli ambassador to remind her in the strongest terms possible of the legal responsibility that Israel has to protect civilians?

The UK supports Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens against terrorist activities, but we are clearly urging the IDF to demonstrate restraint in order to prioritise the protection of civilians. As I say, Lord Ahmad will be speaking with the Israeli ambassador later today.

We all condemn attacks on civilians, regardless of which community they are from. The actions of the IDF in Jenin are indefensible and have resulted in 2023 being one of the most lethal years for Palestinians. The UK has long claimed to support a two-state solution, endorsed UN Security Council resolution 2334 and recognised that settlements are illegal under international law. So after yesterday’s appalling move to block action by citizens and public bodies to stop illegal occupation and settlements, have UK Government policy changed?

As I say, this Government will continue to stress the importance of the adherence to the principles of necessity and proportionality when Israel defends its legitimate security interests, as well as the importance of continuing to provide appropriate protection to the Palestinian civilian population, particularly children.

At around 11.30 am yesterday, 17-year-old Majdi Younis Saud Ararawi sustained a gunshot wound to the chest and Nouruddin Husam Yousef Marshoud, who was just 15, was shot in the head by Israeli occupation forces. Their names join a list of more than 30 Palestinian children killed by the Israeli regime since the beginning of 2023. The ultimate cause of those senseless killings is Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine, which has gone on for over half a century.

Given that last night the Government voted for legislation banning peaceful means of protesting against this abomination, and given Britain’s humanitarian and historic responsibilities to the Palestinian people, what actions have the Government taken? The Minister has ducked the question so far, but I will give her another chance to answer. What action will the Government take to ensure that Israel adheres to international law and its leaders are held to account?

As I have said, we are engaging both with the Israelis and the Palestinians to urge them to de-escalate those tensions. Lord Ahmad will be speaking to the Israeli ambassador later, highlighting and demanding that under international law access to medical care and staff is allowed, so that those who are injured in the Jenin refugee camp are able to receive the medical care that they require.

The use of aerial bombardment and armoured assault by thousands of troops in a refugee camp, familiar to the people of Gaza, is now extended to the west bank. Alongside settlement expansion, it is part of the annexation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories by Israel’s far-right Government. Occupation is the cause and context of these latest war crimes. Will the Government acknowledge that and respond by recognising the state of Palestine?

As I say, across this House we continue our long-standing position of a two-state solution. We will continue to work with partners across the world to find a solution that allows that to happen. In the meantime, we are deeply troubled by the level of violence and we continue to call on Israel, while defending itself and its citizens, to demonstrate the restraint required to ease the situation in Jenin today.

My thoughts go out to the people affected by the horrific attacks on the Jenin refugee camp. We must be clear that this is a violation of international law and that the occupying forces, in particular, have a responsibility to end the violence. I will give a clear suggestion of a possible action: will the UK Government send a clear message of condemnation by bringing to an end the importation into the UK of goods that are produced in those Israeli settlements that are deemed illegal under international law?

As I say, we will continue to make calls on Israel—[Interruption.] Goods made in the settlements are not allowed to be imported, and that continues to be the case. We continue to grow the work that we do on trade with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the OPTs, and I know the Department for Business and Trade is focused on that development work.[Official Report, 5 July 2023, Vol. 735, c. 4MC.]

I do not think the Minister understands the power of office. Today we have heard comments and some warm words, but we have seen no action. The UK currently has the power of holding the presidency of the United Nations Security Council, so will she call the Security Council together to act now on the atrocities that we have seen in Jenin? What other measures will she take to stop further atrocities occurring?

As I say, we continue to work on the peaceful two-state solution. Later today, Lord Ahmad will provide an update in the other place on our continuing activities.

This year has already been the deadliest for violence in the west bank since 2005. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of rising Israeli violence against Palestinian civilians? I will give her another chance: does she not agree that civilian deaths should lead to investigations and accountability?

As I say, we continue to be deeply troubled by the high number of Palestinian civilians who have been killed and injured, as the hon. Lady highlights. While Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself, it is important that Israeli forces exercise maximum restraint, especially in the use of live fire, when protecting that legitimate security interest.

I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Peace is a word we often hear in relation to Israel and Palestine, but how can peace be achieved when Palestinians are subjected to systematic and deliberate oppression and discrimination by Israeli authorities? The people in the Jenin refugee camp have already fled their homes, and they have been displaced yet again. Can the Minister set out what is being done by the international community to help those who have now been displaced twice? Will she condemn the denial to access medical care for Palestinians in Jenin? And will she join me in calling out Israel’s behaviour for what it is? As stated in a report by Amnesty International, Israel is committing the crime of “apartheid against Palestinians.”

As I say, Lord Ahmad will be speaking to the Israeli ambassador later and will be making clear that we want to ensure that medical supplies are able to get into refugee camps to provide the care that is needed to those who are injured as a result of the violence of the past few days.

Reports from Jenin are shocking, particularly reports that medical teams are unable to get access to civilians in need. I support what the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), said about having steps towards a solution and an ending of Israeli settlements. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports there have been at least 570 attacks by settlers against Palestinians in the west bank this year, which is an average of three attacks a day. What is the Minister doing, in discussions with her counterparts, on tackling Israeli settler violence, as well as on the issues faced because of new Palestinian militant groups? Action is needed now to de-escalate the situation, as well as looking again at the international funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which is vital to support Palestinian refugees.

As I say, we condemn settler violence in the strongest possible terms and we urge the Israeli authorities to do what they can. The Foreign Secretary’s statement, published with Australia and Canada at the end of last week, highlighted the very clear demand that the Government of Israel reverse their decision to approve over 5,700 new settlement units in the west bank and change the settlement approval process. We will continue to work with allies to achieve that.

The escalation of violence in the west bank over the past year and the killing of innocent civilians, including children in recent days, is devastating. The two-state solution, which many of us hope will bring peace and stability to the region, seems further away than ever. What are the Government actively doing to stop the killing of innocent people and to ensure that a two-state settlement is still a diplomatic reality?

As I have said, we continue to work with partners and allies on the two-state solution. Indeed, we call on all those caught up in the violence today to show restraint and to de-escalate the situation so that the violence can come to a halt and we can ensure that those casualties are able to receive treatment.

My good and hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) was absolutely correct in her remarks and I thank her for securing this urgent question. I visited the refugee camp at Jenin in 2012 and saw some of the clinics and schools; to say that the conditions were grim is an understatement. What we have seen over the past day or two is an attack by Israeli security forces on a refugee camp, using missiles against children, parents, the elderly and the vulnerable. This is not about Israel defending itself. Even the White House has stated that it is tyranny. When will the UK Government intervene not just with words to condemn those actions, but with something in practical terms to support the Palestinian people undergoing such appalling oppression?

The UK’s position on the middle east peace process is clear and we will continue to support a negotiated settlement, which leads to a safe and secure Israel living side by side with a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders. In the short term, we are calling very firmly, as are all partners around the world, on Israeli defence forces to show the required level of restraint to ensure that the violence ceases in Jenin refugee camp as soon as possible.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) for securing this urgent question. It has been reported that medical teams have been prevented from entering Jenin. Will the Minister condemn that now from the Dispatch Box? Will she express to her counterpart that Palestinians must have medical aid, and can she then return to the House to update MPs on the medical situation?

As I have said, international humanitarian law requires access to be made available for medical teams to treat those in need of care, so we are urging Israel to allow that as soon as possible. I know that my colleague, the Minister for the middle east, will be raising that particularly urgently with the Israeli ambassador when he speaks to her this afternoon. I will ensure that an update is provided by the Department in due course.

The last time that we saw tensions rise like this, we experienced a month of hate, with incidents of antisemitism rising to an all-time high, and horror tropes on the streets of London. Does the Minister agree that, while discussions are taking place to de-escalate the situation, we all have a duty to temper our language to make sure that Jewish residents, such as my constituents, do not live in fear of abuse, graffiti, racist convoys and, ultimately, violence. We all have a duty to try to tackle this behaviour on the streets when we see it.

We all have a duty to ensure that antisemitic voices are not allowed to cause distress or violence. We will continue to ensure that those who feel anxious get the support they need. We provide a great deal of support and are very proud of the work that the Home Office does in support of many of our Jewish communities.

This year, we have seen a record number of settlement units approved. The Israeli Finance Minister has instructed ministries to prepare for an additional 500,000 settlers on the west bank. We have seen 33 Palestinian children killed. While the Government urge restraint and we get the same weak answers time and again from the Dispatch Box, Israel is acting with impunity. I think the Minister said it slightly wrong earlier on, but it seemed that she was saying that trade with illegal settlements is now deemed illegal by the UK Government. Is that the case?

Let me reiterate again that the UK position on settlements is absolutely clear. Those settlements are illegal under international law and, indeed, they call into question that commitment to the two-state solution, to which the UK are committed. We will continue to urge Israel to halt that and ensure that the trade relationships that we have with Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories can progress as they need to.

Many of my Luton South constituents have been in touch to say how distressed and angry they are about the increase in violence on the west bank. Many have set out that the access to supplies, clean water and powdered milk for children is at risk, so, beyond conversations, can the Minister confirm that there will be additional support for healthcare and medical organisations on the ground so that they can help civilians?

Once my noble Friend Lord Ahmad has had discussions with the Israeli ambassador, I will ensure that further information on how we will continue to support UNRWA and other humanitarian groups focuses in particular on this incident. I am afraid that I do not have more information to hand at the moment.

One eye witness in an interview with CNN has compared the impact of the incursion with a natural disaster in terms of the destruction of infrastructure, such as roads, water systems and electricity. What role can the British Government play in helping reconstruction to reduce further humanitarian suffering? Is it the policy of the British Government that the state of Israel should pay reparations for damage to civilian infrastructure in the occupied territories as a result of military activity?

As I have said, we have seen the violent activity today on our TVs and we call on the Israeli Defence Forces and the Israeli Government to demonstrate the restraint that is required to prioritise the protection of civilians and ensure that we can see both medical support get into the Jenin camp and de-escalation of the violence as soon as possible.

I wish to pass on my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) for raising this issue today. I will give the Minister one more chance before we end this urgent question: can she set out with far, far greater clarity than she has done so far what action the Government will take as president of the UN Security Council to ensure that Israel adheres to international law and that its leaders are held accountable?

As I set out earlier this week, the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Israeli Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, on 26 June and to Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh on 16 June. Such conversations are going on day after day. Lord Ahmad will be able to give an update on his conversations later on in the day in the other place.

Israel is clearly in breach of international humanitarian law as well as multiple UN Security Council resolutions. The Minister has ducked the very specific question on the Security Council on multiple occasions. As president of the Security Council, the UK has a particular power to convene the Security Council and, indeed, the responsibility to do so. Can the Minister give us a very clearcut answer: will the UK Government convene the Security Council on this issue—yes or no?

As I have said, the Government continue not only to have close discussions with the Israelis to try to ensure a de-escalation of the violence that we are seeing today, but to work closely with our allies and partners to ensure that we continue to support and give the clear direction of international partners on the question of the two-state solution.

I thank the Minister of State for her measured and careful answers to the urgent question. It is important that her interest in this matter is put on the record. Will she outline what discussions have taken place with our Israeli allies to renew peace talks, to allow both states to co-exist beside each other without the tit-for-tat action that has become normalised and yet is truly horrific and heartbreaking for all those who are losing loved ones in this conflict?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is right that, when this violence occurs, the great tragedy is that civilians are caught up in it, especially where the Israeli Defence Forces are legitimately trying to defend themselves and, indeed, Palestinians from the terrorist threat. The Foreign Secretary continues to have a strong focus on this and we are working with leaders and our allies around the world to try to find a solution.

The Minister mentioned that the Government have urged the Israeli Defence Forces to demonstrate restraint and have urged de-escalation to protect civilians, but actions speak louder than words. Can the Minister say what it will take for the Government to suspend arms sales to Israel until we can be sure that they are not being used to violate international law and perpetrate war crimes and human rights abuses? I would appreciate it if the Minister could give a well-thought-out answer to the question, instead of referring to pre-scripted notes in a folder.

I will continue to state the fact that these violent activities are ongoing and colleagues are in discussions right now with Israeli counterparts. I do not wish to disturb those discussions in any way. I am here to update the House on as much as we know. It is an ongoing situation, but I know that when my colleague Lord Ahmad responds to an urgent question later in the day, he will have more information to share in the other place.

I have listened carefully to the Minister, but since 2015 the Government have sold £500 million-worth of arms to Israel, and UK arms have been implicated in previous atrocities against Palestine. Can the Minister say categorically whether any of that military equipment has been used in Israel’s assaults on the Jenin refugee camp? Does not this attack again show why the Government should suspend all arms sales to Israel until it abides by international law?

The Government take our defence export responsibilities seriously and we operate some of the most robust export controls in the world. I reiterate, as colleagues have heard me say before in previous roles, that all applications for export licences are assessed on a case-by-case basis against strict criteria and we will not issue a licence if there is a clear risk that equipment might be used for internal repression. The Government will continue to monitor closely the situation in Israel, Gaza and the west bank and, if extant licences are found to be no longer consistent with those criteria, those licences will be revoked.