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Israel-Hamas War: Diplomacy

Volume 742: debated on Monday 11 December 2023

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on the international diplomacy surrounding the Israel-Hamas war.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. The Government are undertaking extensive and global diplomatic engagement to get much greater aid into Gaza, support British nationals and the safe return of hostages, and prevent dangerous regional escalation. Days after Hamas’s brutal attack, the then Foreign Secretary was in Israel to see for himself the devastation wrought by this heinous act of terrorism, and his successor visited in late November to continue dialogue with Israeli leaders. Last week the Prime Minister discussed the latest efforts to free hostages with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and stressed the need to take greater care to protect civilians in Gaza. Two days later, the Foreign Secretary discussed the future of the middle east peace process with the US Secretary of State in Washington.

The situation in Gaza cannot continue, and we are deploying all our diplomatic resources, including in the United Nations, to help to find a viable solution. The scale of civilian deaths and displacement in Gaza is shocking. Although Israel has the right to defend itself against terror, restore its security and bring the hostages home, it must abide by international law and take all possible measures to protect civilians. We have called for further and longer humanitarian pauses. It is imperative that we increase the flow of aid into Gaza, but as we have said at the UN, calling for a ceasefire ignores the fact that Hamas has committed acts of terror and continues to hold civilian hostages.

We remain committed to making progress towards a two-state solution. Britain’s long-standing position on the middle east peace process is clear: we support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state.

I know that you continue with your best endeavours, Mr Speaker, but when it comes to a matter as important as this, I think we see why it is so problematic that the Foreign Secretary is not in this House.

The scale of death and destruction seen in Gaza over the last two months has been intolerable: the children left under the rubble, the families displaced from their homes, and the many innocent Palestinians facing the threat of starvation and disease. Despite international pressure on Israel to change the way it is fighting—to not replicate the kind of devastating tactics that it used in the north, to protect schools and hospitals, and to ensure that humanitarian aid is ramped up—Labour shares grave concerns that those conditions are not being met.

Diplomacy, not bombs and bullets, is the only route to a lasting peace. The grave warnings from the United Nations cannot be ignored, and they show the urgent need for action to relieve the suffering. It is right that the UN Security Council has been debating this war, but it constitutes a failure that it has been unable to reach a consensus and to speak with a collective voice. Labour wants a resolution to pass the UN Security Council —a resolution that properly condemns Hamas terrorists and the appalling 7 October attacks on Israel, and calls for the release of all hostages; a resolution that demands a renewed cessation of hostilities and the protection of Palestinian civilians; a resolution that acts as a stepping-stone towards an enduring end to this war.

We cannot give up. Too much is at stake. Can the Minister explain what steps he will now take to help reach that consensus? Can he update the House on any progress to open up the second crossing at Kerem Shalom? International diplomacy must focus on Gaza, but it must also focus on further escalation in the west bank and the wider region, including Lebanon. Will the Government therefore increase pressure on the Israeli Government in the west bank by imposing travel bans on illegal settlers involved in attacks, serious criminal activity and the fostering of hatred? Will he say unequivocally, like Labour, that we will not tolerate the expulsion of the people of Gaza or the west bank, and that they must be able to return to their homes? Finally, will the Minister and the Government back Labour’s call for a joint western and Arab-led international contact group to replace the defunct Quartet?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions. I recognise the enormous authority that Lord Cameron holds in these matters and the right hon. Gentleman’s request that he should be available in the House. I will do my best to satisfy him on the questions that he has asked. As he knows, Lord Cameron is keen to engage with the House of Commons in every possible way.

The right hon. Gentleman asked why Britain did not support the UN Security Council resolution. I can tell him clearly that there was a lot good stuff in the resolution that Britain does support, but there was no condemnation of Hamas, and for that reason we felt unable to support it. However, we did not oppose it, because it had a lot of useful and important stuff in it, and we therefore abstained. He will recall that there have been a number of resolutions. We voted yes to the UN resolution drafted by the Americans, but that was vetoed by China and Russia, apparently because they could not bring themselves to condemn what Hamas had done on 7 October.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about settler violence. The targeted killings of civilians are completely abhorrent and we are seeking that those responsible should be not just arrested but prosecuted and punished. On his comment about travel bans, I can tell him that planning is going on. The Foreign Secretary discussed this with his US counterpart last week and I hope it may be possible to say something about that shortly. The right hon. Gentleman also asked about Kerem Shalom. I think that the position of Kerem Shalom is being enhanced at the moment and I hope very much that that will lead to some facilitation, but those discussions are ongoing at this time.

I am sure that the Minister will want to condemn the gratuitous signs of antisemitism that we saw on the streets again this weekend, which led to Karen Pollock from the Holocaust Educational Trust describing London as

“a no-go zone for Jewish people”.

I know that he will want to condemn that. On the broader issue of a negotiated ceasefire, will he confirm that the Government’s position is as it has been throughout —namely, that Hamas can play no role in the future of the governance of Gaza and that it is Hamas who are responsible for what is happening in Gaza today?

I very much agree with what my hon. Friend has said. On his point about a ceasefire, at the moment a ceasefire is wholly implausible. First of all, Hamas would not agree to one. They have made it absolutely clear that they want to replicate the terrible acts that took place on 7 October, so I fear that that is not going to happen. That is why we call for extended humanitarian pauses, and as I understand it, that remains the position of His Majesty’s Official Opposition.

Humanitarian aid agencies are now repeatedly warning in strong and unmistakable terms that they simply cannot fulfil their mandate in Gaza. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency has said that Gaza is “hell on earth”. Over 2 million Palestinians now need food assistance. What the hell are the UK Government doing allowing people to starve to death when they could do something about it? What in God’s name makes them think it is acceptable to stand by as more than 49,000 people are injured and the hospitals that would have treated them are being bombed and starved of supplies, when they could have an influence over that? How on earth have we reached a time when 18,000 people have been slaughtered in Gaza by Government say-so and still they are not calling for a ceasefire? Do they know that thousands of people in the UK are now screaming in horror at their TV screens because they just cannot believe what they are witnessing in Gaza, and that they are stunned by the UK’s response, which is to say that Israel has the right to defend itself? All countries have the right to defend themselves, but how can killing the former Glasgow University student Dima Alhaj and her six-month-old baby ever be described as self-defence? Why did the UK abstain on the UN resolution calling for a ceasefire? The former Home Secretary called that disappointing. I call it shameful.

I recognise the passion with which the hon. Lady speaks, but I have explained in some detail why the Government felt it was not possible to support the resolution. We did not oppose it; we abstained.

I urge the hon. Lady to think again, as a ceasefire is wholly implausible. It is much more sensible to try to get these humanitarian pauses, where we have seen some success. We urgently need to see more, for the reasons she set out so eloquently.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly expressed his unequivocal support for Israel’s right to defend itself. May I urge the Government to maintain that position, to stay the course and to ensure that we continue to give Israel our strong support?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have made it clear that Israel has every right to defend itself, but that it must abide by international humanitarian law and the laws of war.

It is

“wrong and illegal to target civilians…international law is very clear that there mustn’t be the targeting of civilians”.

Those are not my words, but the words of the new Foreign Secretary, and then Prime Minister, during the 2014 war in Gaza. Given that over 10,000 Palestinian children alone have been killed, can the Minister confirm whether the Foreign Secretary, and therefore this Conservative Government, still believes that Israel’s targeting of civilians is wrong and illegal? What steps is he taking to hold the Israeli Government to account?

Again, I recognise the integrity with which the hon. Gentleman speaks. I can tell him that, no, the Israeli Government never target civilians, but they are pursuing a strategy of degrading and eliminating the appalling perpetrators and the military machine that wrought the terrible disaster that took place on 7 October, which I remind him was a pogrom. More Jewish people were killed on that day than on any single day since the holocaust in 1945.

Even if the Foreign Secretary were at the Dispatch Box today, I doubt if he would do a better job than my right hon. Friend. Can he say whether the Government have made any estimate of the number of Hamas fighters who have been killed? We seem to get very precise estimates of the number of civilians who have been killed but, clearly, a large number of Hamas fighters are engaged in opposing Israeli forces on the ground. Are any other people, other than Hamas fighters, resisting Israeli forces on the ground?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind personal remarks. Truth is often the first casualty in war, and none of the figures that we are hearing can be relied upon.

Words now fail to describe the despondency felt by those of us who stand for peace. When I say “us” I do not just mean those of Palestinian descent; I also mean people in Israel who have fought for peace over many years. The only way to have a lasting peace—a peace without fear—is to have two states, so I will repeat the question that I put last time: what are this Government doing? Later today, I will table a Bill to recognise Palestine. Will the Minister meet me to discuss it? How do we prevent this from happening ever again?

I will, of course, be very pleased to meet the hon. Lady. We have previously discussed the contents of the Bill in another situation, but I will be very pleased to meet her.

We are developing proposals. The hon. Lady specifically asks what we are doing and, obviously, we are trying to lift people’s eyes to the political track that will, at some point, be possible. We are looking in detail at developing proposals for support for the Palestinian Authority to build up the sinews of statehood, in pursuit of the established policy of both the major political parties in this House that there should be a two-state solution, with Israel living behind secure borders and Palestine as a free and independent state.

The Minister did say that too many Palestinians have died in pursuit of a solution to the Hamas problem, but I wondered: does he genuinely believe, and is it the Government’s position, that a military solution—a military defeat of Hamas—is possible?

I have no doubt that it is possible to degrade and stop the military machine that wrought the terrible disaster on 7 October. When addressing an ideology, however, it is extremely important to recognise that a political process is absolutely essential. That is why the Government are spending, along with our allies, enormous amounts of time in trying to work through how that could be achieved.

Shamefully, our Government refused to back the ceasefire at the UN Security Council last week, when a motion was supported by 100 countries, including France, Spain and Portugal, among other European nations. In the face of the indiscriminate killing and suffering that we are seeing day after day in Gaza, is it not a failure of moral leadership to refuse to back a ceasefire? Will this constant refusal to back a ceasefire not be seen as giving the green light to Israel to commit yet more war crimes?

I think the hon. Gentleman would receive the same response from those on his own Front Bench as he will receive from me. As I have already said to the House, a ceasefire is simply impractical, because we have to have two sides that are willing to sign up to a ceasefire and there is absolutely no suggestion, at any point, that either of them will.

A Minister in the Iranian Government, General Ezzatollah Zarghami, formerly of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has told Iranian media that this “first mission” as the “production manager” of Iranian-made rockets is to supply those rockets to be fired into Israel and hit civilians. He openly told Iranian media that he lived in Hamas terror tunnels “for some time”. That is an Iranian Minister openly admitting to having lived in terrorist tunnels and supplying rockets. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about Iran bankrolling and arming Hamas?

On illegal settlements, does not the experience of the past two decades show that words have absolutely no impact on Prime Minister Netanyahu? I welcome the Minister’s announcement today that the Government are examining sanctioning the violent illegal settlers, following in America’s footsteps, but why can we not have a ban on all trade between the United Kingdom and the illegal settlements?

The Government have always made it absolutely clear that the settlements are illegal under international law, and we will continue to make that case as forcefully as we think appropriate.

I agree with the deputy Secretary of State’s comments on degrading Hamas, but does he agree that the malevolent force in the region is Iran? Although, obviously, we do not want a direct conflict with Iran, what more can the Government do, with our partners and allies, to ensure that we can degrade the capacity and capabilities of Iran to inflict the suffering that it has inflicted on the region?

My right hon. Friend will know that the Government have been clear that measures need to be taken, and we have used our own military assets in this respect, to make sure that the conflict does not widen. We have sent a very clear warning to Iran in that respect, along with our allies, and he may rest assured that we continue to watch this issue with extreme care.

In response to an earlier question, the Minister talked of dangerous regional escalation and the scale of the loss of life. How do his Government hope to prevent either, and support a just and lasting peace, without calling for a ceasefire? How can they claim to support a two-state solution when they do not recognise the state of Palestine? One plus zero has never equalled two.

It is, I think, the policy of both sides of the House that we should not pursue the possibility of a ceasefire, because there is no possibility, for very trenchant reasons that have been set out. The hon. Lady is, however, right to point to the political horizon, to ensure that we take advantage, as soon as the moment is plausible, of building a political track. As part of that, we are looking to build Palestinian state capacity. We know that Gaza should be under Palestinian control when this is over. Hamas has no place in a future of Gaza and we must never allow them ever to be able to entrench themselves in the civilian population again.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. What recent engagement has my right hon. Friend had with Qatari counterparts in relation to their pivotal role as mediator between Israel and Hamas?

Discussions with Qatari go on all the time. Indeed, my noble Friend Lord Ahmad, the Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for the middle east, has been in Qatar recently.

The Minister will have seen pictures of the horrific loss of life in Gaza, which started up again over the weekend, and of half-naked men being paraded through the streets. The Geneva convention prohibits turning prisoners of war into objects of “public curiosity”. He will also know of the grave concerns about reports of the use of rape by Hamas fighters on 7 October. All of this shows that we will need a very clear mechanism for the investigation of allegations of war crimes and for accountability, if war crimes are found to have happened. Will the Minister set out what the UK Government, who have said that international law must be upheld, believe that mechanism should be?

I have a great deal of sympathy with the points that the hon. Lady makes. The British Government have made it clear that all parties in this terrible conflict must abide by international humanitarian law. We continue to identify and look for mechanisms for ensuring that there can be no impunity in that respect, and that there will be transparency over the actions that the forces take.

It is good to see you back in the Chair, Mr Speaker. The humanitarian pauses gave an opportunity for the welcome release of Israeli hostages. However, as a result of Palestinian prisoners being released, there is a concern that Hamas are gaining ground in the west bank and could end up being the major force in the whole of the area that we call Palestine. What efforts is my right hon. Friend making to ensure the release of the hostages without any conditions?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on the terrible plight of the hostages. I cannot give the House a running commentary on what is happening in respect of the hostages, but there have been no new developments. He will know that the Ministry of Defence is supplying surveillance flights over Gaza to assist in that general endeavour, but he may rest assured that the plight of the hostages is at the top of our list of concerns.

The Israeli Defence Ministry has told the UN that it “must do better” at delivering aid to Gaza. This is not a natural disaster; it is deliberate military action, during which Israeli forces have so far killed 130 UN aid staff, mostly alongside their families. How many more innocent people must die before Members on both Front Benches realise the scale of the atrocities and demand a permanent ceasefire as the only way out?

I understand the right hon. Lady’s strength of feeling, but she does no service to Members on either Front Bench, who have made it clear that the reasons why a ceasefire would not work are known to the House and that trying to secure humanitarian pauses—the longer the better—is the way to release humanitarian support to those who are suffering in the way she describes.

The despicable actions of Hamas and Iran are responsible for this conflict, but proportionality is important in the rules of war, as my right hon. Friend knows. Can he explain what we are doing, working with our friends in the middle east, to encourage a sense of proportionality in Israel’s response, so that we minimise the many civilian casualties while respecting their need to take military action?

My hon. Friend expresses the balance very clearly and very well, particularly in the first part of his question. The important point, which Britain makes continually to Israel, is that its response must be proportionate, and it must operate within international humanitarian law.

We urgently need to see steps towards a permanent ceasefire and an end to hostility on all sides, but the Minister is right that neither Israel nor Hamas have agreed to that. In seeking the release of hostages, and knowing that we need to see an end to Hamas’s influence and place in Gaza, there ultimately needs to be an alternative to Israel’s current strategy, with hospitals now at breaking point, food and medicine not getting through, and effectively the de-development of Gaza. What are the Government doing to push for a consensus at the UN, and for a strategy to ensure that the International Criminal Court will be able to hold all parties to account for their conduct?

The hon. Lady makes an important point about the critical need to get support into Gaza. Yesterday, 100 trucks got through, and 300,000 litres of fuel got through during 9 and 10 December. It is nothing like enough, but we are doing everything that we can in respect of the humanitarian effort, alongside our likeminded partners, to galvanise the international humanitarian community to get aid into Gaza. It is not an issue of getting aid into the region; the aid is there, and there is plenty more back-up to come. It is about actually getting it into Gaza. We are stretching every sinew to try to achieve an increase in humanitarian support as fast as we can.

Few would deny Israel’s right to defend itself against an internationally proscribed terrorist organisation, but as a military man, I do not always find it easy to reconcile that with what we are seeing on the ground in Gaza, or the broader operational nature of that campaign. Could the Minister please assure me of the efforts being conducted behind closed doors to ensure Israeli restraint?

My hon. Friend is right to underline the concern about the humanitarian casualties, but as I have said repeatedly in response to this urgent question, we are doing everything we can to make the point that he has emphasised.

Hamas are an obstacle to peace and a two-state solution, and they must release all hostages now. While pushing for that as a means to further pauses in hostilities, can the Minister confirm what discussions are taking place with international partners to create the conditions where Israel is secure and Palestinians can see a path to reconstruction, renewal and statehood in Gaza?

I reassure the hon. Lady that those discussions are indeed taking place. The Foreign Secretary was in Washington DC last week, and he had discussions with his counterpart. The Prime Minister had a lengthy conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu on 5 December, and at COP the Prime Minister met Israel, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan. He emphasised throughout the importance of providing a political horizon. The hon. Lady is right to identify the set of actions that are required, but she may rest assured that the Government are doing everything we can to pursue them.

I was profoundly disappointed by the Minister’s comments when he dismissed calls for a humanitarian ceasefire as being implausible. If it is so implausible, can he explain why that is the position of every other country in the world with the exception of the United States of America, and does he not understand that it is damaging this country’s credibility to be an honest broker in the necessary international discussions that have to follow? Can he name one action by his Department that has been designed to try to gain the trust of the Palestinian people in this conflict?

On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, I am in no doubt that Lord Cameron’s visit to the west bank will have done just that. On his first point, perhaps he should ask those who are advocating for a ceasefire the question that I have sought to answer: how can there be a ceasefire when neither party to the military action would be willing to accept one?

Since the terrible attack by Hamas on 7 October, more than 250 Palestinians have been killed by illegal settlers in the west bank and there are unconfirmed reports of the involvement of the Israel Defence Forces in the violence. The criteria outlining who can receive arms export licences from the Government include strong wording on violence against women and children. What diplomatic engagement has the Minister had to ensure that any arms exported from this country are not used to facilitate unlawful military activity?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to make it clear that the targeted killing of civilians is completely unacceptable. That is why I said in response to the shadow Foreign Secretary that we seek not just the arrest but the prosecution and punishment of those responsible. In respect of arms licences, she may well know that Britain has the most demanding export licence regime of any country in the world. I think that can give us all confidence that those export licences are granted on the right terms.

Is it not very obvious that Israel is herding the entire population of Gaza, in a state of utter desperation and poverty, with a lack of food, medicine and water, and with serious injuries that cannot be treated, and that its ultimate aim is to expel the population of Gaza and to reoccupy it? Does the Minister not think it is time that we supported the call for a ceasefire, as every other nation in the world has done, and stopped being isolated in this ridiculous approach of saying that somehow a ceasefire cannot work? We have to start somewhere to save life. We have to start somewhere to prevent this catastrophe from getting even worse, on top of the 18,000 already killed in Gaza.

I have set out what we are trying to do to relieve the suffering the right hon. Gentleman so eloquently describes in Gaza, but I have to caution him that a simple call for a ceasefire is not the answer. Much better, in the view of the Government, is to make it clear that humanitarian pauses—preferably extended humanitarian pauses—offer hope of the sort of relief that he and I both wish to see.

When this terrible conflict comes to an end, as all wars must, both Gaza and the west bank will require substantial investment to restore and enhance the economic wellbeing of the Palestinian people. What discussions is my right hon. Friend having with other countries about how they may take a role in an economic revival of the area, which could play a role in a lasting peace?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise that the economic reconstruction and rebuilding of Gaza will be an essential element in any political settlement. More widely, as I have set out, the Government are trying to make sure that, when there is an opportunity to drive forward that political horizon, that is precisely what we will do.

I have just met with Othman, a constituent from Halifax, who is originally from Gaza and is utterly distressed about what his family back home are enduring. The UN Secretary-General has declared that

“nowhere in Gaza is safe”

for civilians. We know that the aid getting in is utterly insufficient and the humanitarian situation cannot be addressed until the violence ends. I have heard what the Minister has to say, but the humanitarian pauses that have been secured might have felt impossible at the start of this conflict. We urge him to redouble his efforts to work towards an enduring humanitarian ceasefire, which surely is the next logical step.

I agree very much with the hon. Lady about the importance of securing a humanitarian pause. That is exactly what we are doing; she will be pleased, like me, to hear that the United Kingdom permanent representative at the United Nations is on a visit to the region at this time to see, among other things, how we can achieve precisely that.

The Minister talks up the UK’s arms export licences, but Amnesty International has identified a particular loophole in those licences: the 2002 incorporation guidelines allow UK components to be sent to third destinations for onward export to Israel. Can he give me any assurances that, unlike in 2009 and 2014, that is not happening right now?

I have set out the fact that Britain has the toughest export licences and regulations anywhere in the world. Of course, if the hon. Lady has any evidence of those licences being infracted in some way, she should bring it to the attention of the authorities.

The Minister will be aware that, as far back as 10 October, the independent UN commission of inquiry said:

“There is already clear evidence that war crimes may have been committed in the latest explosion of violence in Israel and Gaza, and all those who have violated international law and targeted civilians must be held accountable for their crimes.”

As of Saturday, the death toll is more than 17,000 people, of whom nearly 13,000 are women and children, and thousands more are believed to be buried under the rubble. Every passing day is another day of children dying. Like so many of my Vauxhall constituents who email me, it is hard not to feel powerless when we watch the scale of death and destruction day after day. Does the Minister agree that the International Criminal Court should be the jurisdiction that addresses the conduct of all parties in adhering to international law?

The Government have made clear what the role and remit of the International Criminal Court is. As the hon. Lady will be aware, the British Government are a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court. The situation that she described only emphasises the requirement—the demand—that we achieve another humanitarian pause and are able to get deeply needed humanitarian supplies into Gaza.

With hundreds of thousands of Palestinians now homeless and parts of northern Gaza rendered effectively uninhabitable, there is understandably real concern that many people will not be able to return to their homes. Can the Minister tell us what representations he has made to make it absolutely clear that permanent forced displacement of the Gazan population is unacceptable, not just across international borders and into the west bank, but within Gaza itself?

The hon. Lady will know that, in order to help those people, the possibility of providing safe areas in which support can be given is being actively looked at by the United Nations. The problem with safe areas is that they have to be absolutely safe, and we must have the understanding that both Hamas and Israel, and every other entity, will guarantee safety when people are brought there to receive support. That is an ongoing discussion, but it is an area of considerable concern to the United Nations and other humanitarians, which are seeking to operate in this space.

The Labour party continues to call for a cessation of hostilities in Gaza to give us the time and space to alleviate the immense suffering of Palestinian civilians by getting the required food, water, medicines and other aid into blockaded Gaza, and to facilitate the release of all remaining hostages. Does the Minister agree that the international community can and must use the next cessation of hostilities to make political progress towards what we all want: an end to the conflict and a permanent ceasefire?

The hon. Gentleman is not, I think, straying from the policy that has been set out by his Front Benchers. We all want to see those pauses develop so that urgently needed humanitarian aid can get into Gaza, so in that respect, I think that he and the Government are in agreement.

I have heard the Minister’s explanation of why the UK made the deeply disappointing decision not to support the UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire. Over the weekend, he may have heard the comments of Tom Fletcher—a former ambassador and No. 10 adviser—who said that when the UK supported such a resolution in 2009, it helped to move the US away from a veto and towards abstention, ultimately securing a ceasefire. Is the Minister at risk of letting the best be the enemy of the good, when we should be grabbing every possible opportunity to end the bloodshed and the suffering that we see in Gaza?

The Government are doing everything we possibly can. I have set out clearly the difficulties of achieving a ceasefire when neither of the prime parties to it is willing to accept it. I hope that the hon. Lady will reflect on that.

The UK’s abstention on the UN Security Council resolution on Friday was shocking and wholly wrong. It has been reported today that Egypt has invoked resolution 377 to circumvent the US veto on the Security Council, acting to maintain peace. Two million Gazans are displaced and facing disease and starvation, and 18,000 people have been killed, 70% of whom were women and children. Will the UK now back a ceasefire—I implore you, Minister—at an emergency session of the UN General Assembly? That is the only way peace will be achieved.

We have quite a few people standing. I am going to finish at 4.30 pm, and I do not want Members to miss out.

The hon. Lady makes an eloquent call for a ceasefire, but she needs to address the points that have been made elsewhere in the House about why a ceasefire cannot be achieved. I hope she will feel that the Government are doing the right thing in trying to secure humanitarian pauses and increase the flow of humanitarian supplies through Rafah and other entries into Gaza.

Does the Minister share my upset and deep concern that the UN Security Council was unable to find the wording for a resolution to end fighting in Palestine that all its members could agree on and to make political progress towards the permanent ceasefire we all desperately want? If he does agree that a newly worded UN resolution is needed, what role will the UK Government play?

I pay tribute to the British team at the United Nations under its leader, Barbara Woodward. That team has an extraordinary effect, punching above Britain’s weight in trying to corral people to agreement, but I hope the hon. Lady will understand that in the circumstances of last week, it was not possible for Britain to agree to a resolution. In many respects, it was a very good resolution, but as I pointed out, if there was not the will to condemn Hamas for the appalling atrocities committed on 7 October, we simply did not feel we could support it.

I have to tell the Minister that a humanitarian pause is merely a delay: innocent children are being bombed, and a humanitarian pause does not stop that. However, can he tell us what consideration is being given to the huge number of Gazans injured in the IDF’s indiscriminate attacks, for whom proper treatment is utterly impossible? Constituents who are NHS clinicians have got in touch with me, looking to offer their assistance in the region just as soon as it is practical and safe to do so. Have any discussions taken place about facilitating such offers?

If, as I think the hon. Gentleman is saying, those are offers to provide hospital and medical support, we—along with others—are actively looking at what support we can give to those who are injured in Gaza and may come out of Gaza.

The Minister said earlier that international humanitarian law must always be upheld with no impunity, but what does that mean in practice? What mechanisms is he proposing we use, and what specific conversations has his Department had with the International Criminal Court to investigate potential breaches of humanitarian law? Has it withdrawn from the position of the former Prime Minister that Israel is outside the jurisdiction of the ICC?

I must make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that the Government’s position on the International Criminal Court has been well set out—not least that it is not for Ministers to make those judgments, but for judges, the prosecutor and the court itself. I am afraid that I cannot help him on that point, but on the importance of abiding by international humanitarian law, of there being no impunity and of there being retrospective judgment on that, the hon. Gentleman will know that the British Government have been one of the foremost Governments around the world in insisting that impunity should never exist.

Does the Minister agree with Labour that Israel must not besiege or blockade Gaza, must comply with international law, must protect innocent lives and must not replicate the devastating aerial bombing tactics that have been used in northern Gaza and, according to Israeli reports, have resulted in 61% of deaths being civilians?

The hon. Lady asks whether the Government agree with Labour on these matters. As she knows, there is agreement on many of these things across the two Front Benches, in particular that calling for a ceasefire is not the right thing to do.

Israeli Defence Minister Gallant has been reported as saying that,

“Gaza won’t return to what it was before. We will eliminate everything”,

and that,

“We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly.”

He is not the only Israeli political leader to make such dehumanising statements. All the while, war crimes are inarguably being committed by Israeli forces, who have killed close to 20,000 Palestinian people. Does the Minister believe that such statements indicate genocidal intent, and what concrete steps is he taking to sanction those responsible?

What I can say is that, in Gaza, there will in the future be no place for a Hamas Administration.

The IDF promised us precision and intelligence, but what the world is witnessing is the wholesale destruction of a society and a people. What must change for the UK Government to vote tomorrow for a UN Security Council motion for a cessation of hostilities that will ultimately lead to a ceasefire?

The two points I have mentioned about the UN are that there were plenty of good lines in the UN Security Council resolution on which we abstained, but that we will not support a resolution that does not condemn Hamas for the appalling events that took place on 7 October.

I welcome the shift in the UK Government position to abstention at the United Nations last week, a different position from that taken by the United States. Qatar says that the former willingness to discuss pauses is not in place at the moment, and the Minister has rightly said that events in Gaza cannot be allowed to carry on. What does he think it will take to re-establish the willingness to discuss pauses as a first step, hopefully, towards the permanent ending of the conflict?

The right hon. Member is right to focus on securing these pauses, because there is precedent and the hope that we can achieve that. What is most important is that everyone should press for these pauses for as long as possible—previously, we were asking for five-day pauses as a minimum—so that the humanitarian supplies and support can get into Gaza.

To clarify something the Minister said about the United Nations resolution, if it had rightly condemned Hamas, would the UK Government have voted for it so that we can all see an end to the killing?

Unfortunately, it was not possible to achieve that compromise when it came to negotiating the UN resolution, but the hon. Member may rest assured that in all these matters Britain is a force for good at the UN in trying to achieve the end aim that everyone in this House agrees is required.

Could the Minister clarify whether the UK Government failed to support the UN Security Council resolution because it did not mention Hamas or because they oppose a ceasefire in any event, or both? If the Government have doubts about Israel’s adherence to international humanitarian law, should they not call for a ceasefire observed by all sides until they are persuaded that Palestinian civilians are not subject to collective punishment?

It is the plausibility of a ceasefire that informed our decisions on that matter, but on the hon. Member’s specific question, we were unable to support the resolution because it did not make an absolute condemnation of what Hamas did on 7 October.

Does the Minister now accept that if Israel’s intention is to raze Gaza to the ground, which it seems as though it is, that cannot possibly help move the situation towards a long-term two-state solution, or does he suspect there may be some in the Israeli Government who have no intention of wanting to achieve that solution?

I do not believe it is Israel’s intention to raze Gaza to the ground. Israel’s intention is to ensure that Hamas terrorists can never inflict on the state of Israel the appalling events that took place on 7 October.

Given that the UN Security Council was unable, regrettably, to achieve a ceasefire because of the decisions of the US and UK Governments, what discussions have taken place about creating a ceasefire in the south of Gaza, to which many Palestinians in Gaza have been sent for their security and safety, and would the Minister advocate such a position?

For reasons the hon. Member will understand, there was no discussion about a ceasefire within the Government—I have very clearly set out the reasons—but on southern Gaza, we are exploring every possible mechanism to bring the relief of humanitarian supplies, including the extremely difficult but plausible advent of safe zones.

It is possible to condemn both the brutal rapes and murders carried out by Hamas and Israel’s indiscriminate and illegal killing of women and children, and we now have 800 scholars of genocide stating that this continued bombardment of Gaza is at grave risk of being genocide. With that in mind, at what point will the Government consider supporting a permanent ceasefire?

As I have repeatedly set out to the House, the reasons why the Government, and indeed the Opposition Front Bench, are unable to call for a ceasefire are very clear.

At the end of last week the US vetoed a Security Council resolution brought about by the UN Secretary-General triggering article 99. What are the Government doing to encourage our friends in Washington to support, or at least abstain on, a resolution that does refer to Hamas and that is acceptable to other permanent members of the Security Council?

The team in our mission at the UN in New York works night and day to try and get progress on the terrible events taking place in the middle east and it will be encouraged by the hon. Gentleman’s words that more can and should be done.

United Nations Secretary-Generals initiate article 99 very rarely; I understand this is only the seventh time that this has happened, and it is only initiated when the Secretary-General believes an event threatens the maintenance of international peace and security. As the UK abstained on the resolution and 13 members supported it, with the US against, the UK are in an isolated position; does this mean the UK Government disagree fundamentally with the position of the UN Secretary-General?

The UN Secretary-General and the British Government work extremely closely together; it is an extraordinarily important and close relationship for both parties. But I have set out very clearly why it has not been possible for Britain to support a ceasefire, and above all it is because of the impracticality of calling for it.

I thank the Minister for his clear answers and clear understanding of the conflict. The destruction and dismantling of the Hamas terrorist group must be achieved and concluded before any permanent peace can be found. Stories in the press today told of those who came so close to being released; the return of hostages is an urgent matter for the families, who have waited over a month imagining the horrors being faced by their loved ones. What progress is being made to see at least the women and children returned, and can our Government and our Minister say whether anything further can be done to help to see this war ending and people returning to a semblance of normal life?

My hon. Friend speaks for many in the House with his compassion and determination to improve what is a dreadful position, as has been so clearly set out throughout this urgent question, and the whole House will join him in hoping we can make progress in the coming days and weeks.