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Israel and Gaza

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 19 December 2023

The whole House will be gravely concerned about the desperate situation in Gaza. It cannot continue, and we are deploying all our diplomatic resources, including in the United Nations, to help find a viable solution. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her urgent question and for the private messages from Gaza that she has made available to me, and I look forward to meeting her in the Foreign Office tomorrow.

The scale of civilian deaths and displacement in Gaza is shocking. I was particularly disturbed to hear about the situation of civilians trapped in the Holy Family church complex in Gaza City, the lack of water and food, and reports of sniper fire causing civilian deaths inside the complex. 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.

No one wants to see this conflict go on for a moment longer than necessary. We recognise the sheer scale of the suffering, and are appalled at the impact on civilians. We urgently need more humanitarian pauses to get all the hostages out and lifesaving aid in. We welcome the recent opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing to help achieve that, but it is not enough. Our immediate priorities are to secure the release of British hostages, to show solidarity with Israel in defending itself against Hamas while complying with international humanitarian law, and to call for such pauses, both at the UN and directly with Israel, to ensure that emergency aid can be distributed in Gaza, including fuel, water and medicine.

The Foreign Secretary will discuss the situation in Gaza with regional leaders this week in his visit to Egypt and Jordan. The Government have recently announced an additional £30 million of British aid, tripling the UK aid budget for the Occupied Palestinian Territories this financial year. To date, we have delivered 74 tonnes of aid, but there is still more to do. Casualty numbers are far too high, and we are calling on Hamas to release each and every kidnapped hostage. We are also actively exploring other routes for aid into Gaza, including maritime options.

Of course, as both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have said, ultimately this must end. We of course want to see an end to the fighting, but it must be a sustainable ceasefire, meaning that Hamas must stop launching rockets into Israel and must release the hostages. More than 130 hostages are still unaccounted for. They must be released immediately and returned to their families. To achieve long-term peace in the middle east, a viable two-state solution is needed. Leaving Hamas in power in Gaza would be a permanent roadblock on the path to that; no one can be expected to live alongside a terrorist organisation committed to their destruction and dedicated to repeating those attacks.

I am extremely grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question, and I thank the Minister for his response. Let me begin by pointing Members towards my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—I am an unpaid adviser to International Centre of Justice for Palestinians.

I have spoken before in the House about my extended family who are in the Holy Family parish church in Zeitoun, Gaza. The situation has been desperate for weeks but is now descending further. There are tanks outside the gates, and soldiers and snipers pointing into the complex and shooting at anyone who ventures out, and the convent was bombed. On Saturday, two women were shot. They were simply trying to get to the toilet. There is no electricity or clean water, and the update that I had last night was that they were down to their last can of corn. I am told that, after pressure, food has been delivered, but they have not seen it.

When this began a week ago, the Israel Defence Forces soldiers ordered those civilians to evacuate against their will. Can the Government confirm that they see the forcible displacement of civilians as unacceptable? The people in the church are civilians. They have nothing to do with Hamas. They are nuns, orphans and disabled people; they are a small Christian community and they know everyone. As the Pope has said, and as my family can confirm, it is categorically untrue to say that Hamas are operating from there. The situation has been condemned by many. Will the Government condemn it?

It is important to stress that the suffering is not confined to just that church. Just last week, we saw the utterly tragic deaths of three Israeli hostages. Others are reported to have been murdered by Hamas, and 100 are still in captivity. That is also unacceptable. Seventy-three days on in this conflict, the death toll is only rising. It is time for the international community to say that this violence is now making peace harder, not easier.

The UK Government talk now of a sustainable ceasefire, and although I and the Liberal Democrats welcome the change in tone, it is unclear whether that is in fact a change in position. Will the Government demand an immediate bilateral ceasefire? Will they change how they vote at the UN Security Council as a result? When will the Prime Minister accept that the only route to peace is political, not military—that there is one way to get rid of Hamas and end the humanitarian catastrophe, and it is not this? When will the United Kingdom fulfil its historical obligations to the region and recognise Palestine as a first step towards delivering the two states, which is the only way to guarantee security and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians?

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I understand how deeply distressing this is for her, with her family caught up in the Holy Family church complex. As I said in my response, I am grateful to her for the harrowing update she was able to give me direct from the Holy Family church. I am very pleased to hear that she thinks food has been delivered—we will follow up on that point directly after this urgent question.

The hon. Lady talked about the protection of civilians; the British Government make absolutely clear that international humanitarian law must be abided by. She also mentioned humanitarian aid; we understand that yesterday 191 trucks entered the Gaza strip, 127 through Rafah and 64 through Kerem Shalom, which is a new avenue that we very much welcome. Finally, on the point she made about the United Nations, we are working with partners on a resolution, and I expect there will be a vote at 3 pm today, UK time. That is what we are working towards, and while the position is not yet clear, we are hoping to support that resolution.

While walking to Parliament yesterday, I politely challenged a driver who had selfishly parked his car in the bus lane leading on to Chelsea bridge so that he could buy a coffee at the nearby kiosk. When I suggested he move it given the traffic chaos it was causing, he blankly refused, began swearing at me, threatened to throw my phone in the river if I took a photo of him, and then called me a racist and a Zionist. Sadly, that illustrates how hate and intolerance here in the UK are being fuelled by events in the middle east. This conflict is now in its third month, with no end in sight, no clarity from Israel as to how long the occupation will last, and the death toll is mounting. Does the Minister agree that without concerted international intervention, the conflict will escalate?

I am appalled to hear about the way in which my right hon. Friend was treated on his way into the House of Commons. We are stressing the importance of a more surgical approach by the Israeli Defence Forces and are working towards a more sustainable cessation of hostilities. We recognise that there are too many casualties, and we are pressing forward on what is the policy of both the Government and the Opposition: more extensive humanitarian pauses, so that aid can get into Gaza.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) for securing this very important urgent question. May I say how deeply sorry I am to hear of the terrifying experience facing her family in Gaza? I am sure the whole House is with her and her relatives at what must be an incredibly difficult time.

The reports from the Holy Family Catholic church are shocking: an innocent mother and daughter killed in the grounds of a church, with others too scared to leave and now running out of food. Once again in this conflict, a place of sanctuary and peace has become a scene of fear and death. It is one example of the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe confronting civilians across Gaza, and a reminder of the urgent imperative to address this crisis and help bring about the conditions for a sustainable ceasefire. It comes at a moment of growing concern that this conflict could escalate, with Hezbollah in the north, more violence in the west bank, and Houthi threats in the Red sea. We support efforts to maintain regional security, and Labour welcomes the UK’s participation in the new maritime security effort. We thank our armed forces personnel for their service and professionalism.

Today, the United Nations Security Council is voting once again on a resolution. This is a crucial chance to address the urgent and catastrophic situation in Gaza. Let me be clear: Labour wants a resolution to pass, one that can protect civilian lives, that demands that hostages are released, and that can act as a stepping stone towards a sustainable ceasefire and provide renewed impetus towards a two-state solution. The time has come for the United Kingdom to support our international allies at this critical moment.

I thank the shadow Foreign Secretary for his comments. We are, as he knows, very committed to trying to make sure that there is no escalation. I thank him for his welcome for the US-led work to secure maritime security, and I also thank him for his comments, particularly at this time of year, about our armed forces. I have already commented on the UN Security Council resolution, which I hope will be voted on this afternoon; like him, I hope that agreement can be reached.

On the issue of the humanitarian catastrophe to which the shadow Foreign Secretary referred, I can tell him that there is some movement this week. There are 50 World Food Programme trucks ready at Allenby bridge to travel through Israel to Kerem Shalom, and if signed off, that will provide a new route through to Gaza. We have made available some money to the World Food Programme—it is available today—to enhance that route if it opens.

All of us abhor the loss of innocent civilian life in Israel and Gaza, but talk of a “sustainable ceasefire” is unhelpful. All it does is give succour to Israel’s enemies at the time of its greatest need. This is a country that fell to its knees just a few weeks ago and suffered the worst tragedy since the holocaust. Now it is trying to eliminate Hamas and to free the hostages, some of whom are British citizens. Let it finish the job, let it protect Israeli security, and in doing so, let Israel protect our security as well.

While it is true that weapons have been discovered in incubators in a hospital in Gaza, nevertheless I do not agree with my right hon. Friend. We are working towards a sustainable ceasefire. We are not there yet, but we should all of us be working towards that. In the meanwhile, on the pathway to a sustainable ceasefire, we need urgently to get these humanitarian pauses so that humanitarian relief can enter Gaza.

I, too, send my very best wishes to the family of the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran).

As we know, later today the Government’s call for a sustainable ceasefire will be tested at the UN Security Council. If the Government again decide to abdicate their responsibility to humanity and abstain, they will be giving Netanyahu the political cover he needs to prosecute a war in which tens of thousands have already been killed and in which, at the weekend, according to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem,

“a sniper of the IDF murdered two women inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza.”

If the UK is unable to support a ceasefire now, when will it? What has to happen before this Government say enough is enough, and that the indiscriminate killing of innocents, the blanket bombing of civilian infrastructure and the killing of journalists has to stop now? How many more breaches of international humanitarian law will it take for this Government to find the moral courage to say, “This has to stop, and it has to stop now”?

I do not think this is an issue of moral courage. The Government, with the support of those on the Opposition Front Bench, are doing what we believe to be right. We have been very clear that Israel has a right to defend itself, but it must do more to diminish and minimise the number of civilian casualties. On the point the hon. Member made about the United Nations resolution, which we hope will be passed this afternoon, as I have said, skilled British diplomats in New York are engaged in talking throughout the United Nations to try to make sure that that resolution lands in the way both he and I want.

I welcome the calls from the Foreign Secretary for a sustainable ceasefire, and I welcome my right hon. Friend’s words from the Dispatch Box today. Over the weekend, the Foreign Secretary received two letters, one from 10 Back Benchers on this side of the House and another from a group of foreign policy experts, calling for a permanent ceasefire. The last truce resulted in over 80 hostages being released and hundreds of lives being saved. Does my right hon. Friend accept that a permanent ceasefire would reap similar results?

It is true that the Foreign Secretary received a letter over the weekend, signed by 10 colleagues, which states:

“It is widely accepted across the world that lasting security for Israel, peace for the Palestinians, an end to the killing, and the defeat of Hamas, can only be achieved through politics and diplomacy and the establishment of two states.”

That is very much the view of the Government as well.

The Minster has clearly seen the communiqué from the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, pointing out the atrocities committed in the grounds of the Holy Family church, with two people murdered and at least seven wounded. That shows a shocking lack of fire control discipline by the Israeli forces. Will the Minister raise with the Israeli forces my grave concerns, and those of many colleagues across the House, that that is not acceptable?

There is no need for me to raise it with the Israeli forces, because they are themselves conducting an inquiry into the matter.

At Gaza’s Kamal Adwan Hospital last weekend, approximately 80 Hamas fighters were arrested, some of whom took part in the 7 October massacres. Weaponry, Hamas intelligence, and military and technological equipment were recovered, and reports suggest that hospital staff directed the Israel Defence Forces to weapons that Hamas had stored inside incubators for premature babies. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning Hamas for those appalling war crimes, and does he agree that that incident underlines Hamas’s disregard for civilian human life in Gaza?

My hon. Friend is right to point to those reports. As I mentioned earlier, there have been reports of weapons found in incubators, in particular in Kamal Adwan Hospital. I am sure that every Member of this House condemns without qualification the appalling events perpetrated by Hamas, starting on 7 October.

Does the Minister agree with Cardinal Vincent Nichols’s version of events that took place in the compound of the Holy Family church?

The right hon. Lady will understand that I am not in a position to make that judgment, but I have heard with great respect what the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster has said.

All of us were deeply sympathetic to the plight of our Jewish brothers after the October pogrom, and most of us accepted the argument that an immediate ceasefire would have played into the hands of Hamas, but I think on these Benches the mood is changing. Frankly, what Israel is doing is totally unacceptable. This is indiscriminate bombing of vast civilian populations. Leaving aside the outrage at the Holy Family church, it is simply not in the long-term interests of Israel that it radicalises whole generations of Arab youth. It is not in our interests, either, to be involved in any way on the side of Israel doing that. We must up the rhetoric and condemn that unequivocally.

My right hon. Friend will have seen the article co-authored by the Foreign Secretary and his German counterpart. He is right to refer to the pogrom that was instigated in October, and also to the importance of a sustainable ceasefire and respect for international humanitarian law. In my view, the answer to his final point is that the moment there is an opportunity to advance a political track, it must be seized by the region, and Britain will do everything it can to support that.

We should all thank the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) for her steadfastness and for securing this urgent question. Eighteen thousand people have now died across the Gaza strip, and Israel is using food, water and medicine as weapons of war against a civilian population. There are 8,000 missing people under the rubble. As she said, a political solution is required, not a military one. Can the Minister assure the House that the vote today will bring about a ceasefire, and that it will stop the escalation of the war into the Red sea and the Mediterranean, and start to address the underlying issue, which is of course Israel’s occupation of the west bank, the refugees all around the world, and the continued siege of Gaza, which has gone on for decades? We must have the start of a long-term process that brings about real justice for the Palestinian people, or we will be back here again with more war crimes, more deaths, more destruction, and the horrors for decades to come.

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right to focus on the United Nations Security Council resolution, which we hope will be passed this afternoon. That is the way we move the situation forward towards the political track that both he and I want to see as rapidly as possible.

We all welcomed the humanitarian pause that saw the release of a number of hostages, and aid delivered into Gaza. On 1 December, the seven-day pause collapsed following the firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza. Hamas also failed to provide a daily list of hostages to be released by 7 am, in a further violation of the truce. Will the Minister join me in criticising Hamas for violating the truce agreement, once again proving that they are no partners for a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians?

The House will note what the hon. Gentleman has said. I assure him that we are doing everything we can to get humanitarian support into Gaza, including focusing specifically on any maritime opportunities. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary Lyme Bay is loaded with supplies in Cyprus, and is ready to sail once we can be assured that the support can be received and delivered.

With almost 20,000 deaths in Gaza, my constituents in Bolton are asking, “When is ‘enough’ enough?” With 153 countries voting for a ceasefire, when is a “sustainable ceasefire” a ceasefire that happens now? Members of Noorul Islam mosque in Bolton recently visited Egypt to try to get aid across the border into Gaza. Will the Minister meet me to discuss ways that we can work with the Egyptian Government and other partners to ensure that aid can get from Bolton into Gaza?

I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said today, and for the information and work from his community in Bolton that he is making available to the Foreign Office. Of course I shall be pleased to see him at a mutually convenient time.

Last week I attended a briefing with Professor Ghassan Abu Sitta, a heroic British Palestinian doctor who had just returned from Gaza. Because the Israeli siege prevents medical supplies from entering Gaza, he told us he had to use vinegar and washing up liquid to sterilise wounds, even on the night when he performed amputations on six children. He recounted their screams, and the desperation of their parents. I pay tribute to Professor Ghassan, but it will forever shame this House that the dying and the wounded who he treated were bombed and maimed by Israel with the approval of this place. Will the Government finally listen to the growing global calls and demand an immediate ceasefire?

The hon. Lady’s eloquent intervention underlines the importance of achieving a sustainable ceasefire in the way set out by the Foreign Secretary in his article at the weekend.

Over the weekend the Israelis uncovered the largest ever Hamas tunnel, at 2.5 miles long. The brother of Hamas’s leader has been seen driving through the tunnel as he hides beneath Gaza’s civilian population. The Minister has already spoken about 70 Hamas fighters surrendering at a hospital where there were firearms in incubators for premature babies. Does he agree that those are important reminders of Hamas’s appalling use of human shields, of why Hamas must no longer brutalise Gaza’s population and terrorise Israelis, and of why the UK would be completely wrong to call for a ceasefire before the threat of Hamas is removed?

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his comments. I suspect that on both sides of the House there is no need for a reminder of the horrific events that Hamas have perpetrated, on 7 October and since. As he will understand, we are trying to ensure that the hostages are released as swiftly as possible, that the rockets stop, and that we are able to move to a political process as soon as feasible.

Hundreds of British Palestinians have seen multiple generations of their relatives killed, their family homes destroyed and their futures in Gaza decimated. I put on record my thanks to the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) for organising the moving event with Professor Ghassan Abu Sitta. It was a packed room, and not a single eye was dry as we listened to him speak about the horrific situation in the hospitals. Have either the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary or the Minister met any British Palestinian families, including those who have recently returned from Gaza, to witness how they have been affected by Israel’s indiscriminate strikes?

My understanding is that both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have had access to that information. The hon. Gentleman makes a plea for those difficulties to end, and I hope he will accept that the Government are doing everything we can to fulfil what he wants to see and what we want to see.

There is nothing morally courageous about arguing for the people who committed the atrocities on 7 October—the rapists and murderers who crossed into Israel on that day—to remain in power, which is what those who are demanding a ceasefire with Hamas are asking for. That is the reality. I fear sometimes, listening to what is said here, that some people hope Israel does not succeed in achieving its aim of wiping out this horrendous terrorist cult. While there may be a letter from some colleagues that barely reached double figures, very many of us on the Government Benches have been proud of the strong stand and moral clarity that the Government have had in supporting Israel after what happened on 7 October, and I hope that continues.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We are determined that we will end up with a situation where the Palestinians can run their own territory, where the Arab states are heavily involved, and where a political initiative is regionally led. Lots of international work, support and help is required, but we have to get to a point where we can see that political track take shape.

Ahead of today’s UN Security Council vote, a group of foreign policy and military experts, including the former chief of the UK armed forces, General Richards, have called for the Foreign Secretary to support an immediate ceasefire at the UN Security Council. Many have long argued for that, but it can be achieved at the UN Security Council only if the US stops vetoing resolutions. I welcome what the Minister has said about hoping that the UK will support such a resolution, but can he say more about what our Government are doing in the next two hours to convince the US at the minimum to abstain on the resolution to allow it through, or to support it?

The hon. Lady will know that Britain always takes a leading role in the drafting and execution of these resolutions. I can tell her that skilled British diplomats are using this time to try to secure an agreement on the Security Council resolution, which I hope may be passed tonight. I can give her no guarantee of that, but I can give her a guarantee that British diplomats are working flat out to achieve it.

I thank the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) for her important urgent question. I hope that food will be taken to the Holy Family church shortly. I thank the Minister for his comments. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is looking after 1.4 million people in its camps, which is more than half the population of Gaza. On my visit to Palestine in May, we heard that UNRWA was struggling to find funding. Can we ensure that UNRWA is receiving the money and aid it needs to provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians now and in the future?

We are clear that UNRWA is playing a critical role in Gaza. We are very careful to ensure that the British taxpayers’ money we spend to support UNRWA is spent in the right way. We have significantly increased our support to UNRWA and the Americans have re-engaged in supporting UNRWA.

Given the release of the latest Hamas video of three elderly male civilian hostages, does the Minister agree that in all the distress being experienced about events in Gaza, it is important that these innocent hostages do not become the forgotten element of the conflict? Will the Government continue to do all they can to ensure that their safe release is part of any negotiations designed to bring an end to the violence?

I can give the hon. Gentleman those assurances. He will understand why it is unhelpful across the Floor of the House to discuss the details of the negotiations in respect of the hostages, but he may rest assured that we are acting in precisely the way he has set out.

There are horrific accounts of sexual violence being perpetrated against hostages in this conflict, including the gang rape of women and genital mutilation. Will the Government stand firmly with the survivors of sexual violence, which should never be used as a tool of conflict, and do all possible to strengthen their access to justice?

My hon. Friend will know that this Government have made a particular and important intervention to try to stop gender-based violence, and in particular the use of sexual crimes in warfare. I can tell her that her view is well heard and well respected, and we will continue to do just that.

Can the Minister assure the House that should a vote on a ceasefire be brought forward today at the UN Security Council, the Government will not abdicate their responsibility to innocent children, women and men, and will vote for that ceasefire and not abstain?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government certainly will not abdicate our responsibility, but how the Government exercise our vote on the Security Council will depend on the text that is agreed.

The entire Bibas family, including 11-month-old Kfir Bibas, were kidnapped on 7 October. Does the Minister agree that preconditions for a ceasefire must include both the military defeat of Hamas and the return of all the hostages?

The challenge in securing a sustainable ceasefire—many of us have been calling for a ceasefire for some time—is not just the immediate military concerns, but the allegations of war crimes. Just in the past week alone, the Minister will have seen Houthi forces attacking shipping in the Red sea. He will have seen the situation outlined so powerfully by our colleague, the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), in the Holy Family church. On 11 December, when I asked the Minister about this issue, he told the House that the Government were continuing

“to identify and look for mechanisms for ensuring that there can be no impunity”—[Official Report, 11 December 2023; Vol. 742, c. 618-19.]

for anybody who commits a war crime. Can he update us on whether he has identified such a mechanism and what that might be?

The words I used were absolutely precise. The Government have no tolerance of impunity for those who commit war crimes. There are legal mechanisms and other mechanisms that are available and that we see every day in our papers, and the Government of course support those processes to ensure that there is not impunity for war crimes.

One hundred and twenty-nine hostages are still in captivity at the hands of the terrorist group Hamas. Despite diplomatic efforts, the international Red Cross has still not been given access to them. All we see is videos coming out. At the same time, the Hamas leadership is meeting in Turkey with other terrorist groups planning what they will do next. Irrespective of what the United Nations says, calling for a ceasefire just enables Hamas to regroup and set about their evil doings once again.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. That is why it is the policy of the Government and, as I understand it, the Opposition not to call for an immediate ceasefire. Hamas have made it clear that they will not respect or accept a ceasefire. Indeed, they want to repeat what happened on 7 October. Israel has an absolute right of self-defence to go after the people who perpetrated those terrible events on 7 October.

Human Rights Watch has warned that the Israeli Government are using the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in Gaza. Let us be clear, that is a war crime. Amnesty has similarly warned of war crimes, as has the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Surely the Government should not be standing by while Israel commits war crimes, but should be calling for an immediate ceasefire that could swiftly help prevent further such crimes. Does the failure to do so not risk complicity in those war crimes?

The Government have heard the words of President Herzog that Israel will respect international humanitarian law, and the Government expect Israel to abide by the words of the President.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) referred to a meeting of Hamas officials, including its deputy chairman and former leader, in Turkey recently, where Hamas set out their intent to carry on their brutal acts further to the 7 October massacre. What assessment has my right hon. Friend the Minister made of Turkey’s role in facilitating Hamas’s continuing war crimes, and how will he pursue accountability for supposed NATO allies and strategic partners?

The Government make it clear to all countries where we stand on this. We do not think that a ceasefire at this time is possible or practical. We are seeking humanitarian pauses that are as long as possible to get aid in. We are in favour, when it is conceivably possible, of a sustainable ceasefire, and we hope that time will come as soon as possible.

Is the real reason why there are so many civilian casualties in Gaza not that Hamas have cruelly, deliberately and wilfully used the civilian population as cover, whether by operating from hospitals, firing from schools, storing weapons in people’s houses or hiding among the civilian population? Is that not the reason why we must not allow this terrorist group to continue to have a base from which to try to eliminate Israel, and why a ceasefire at present would stop the Israeli military fulfilling its obligation to protect its people in the long run by eliminating Hamas?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. While Israel uses its military forces to defend its civilian population, Hamas use their civilian population to defend Hamas.

Last week’s comments from the Israeli ambassador, which effectively ruled out a two-state solution, serve as further evidence of the difference that exists between our aspirations for the region and those of both the Israeli Government and, of course, Hamas. Given the chasm that exists between those conflicting objectives, is it not time to urgently press for a permanent ceasefire to enable the diplomatic measures necessary to bring about consensus on a lasting peace?

In respect of the comments made by the Israeli ambassador to the UK, the hon. Gentleman will have seen the response of the British Government and, in particular, the response of the Foreign Secretary. On the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question in respect of a permanent ceasefire, he will have heard not only what the Government have said, but what those on the Opposition Front Bench have said.

Will the United Kingdom Government urge the Government of Israel to ratify the Rome statute and thus become a state party to the International Criminal Court?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that Britain is a signatory to the International Criminal Court because we think that it is a vital piece of the international architecture, but it is for all countries to make their own decisions in that respect. He will know that a number of countries, including America, have so far declined to join.

Shot and killed for going to the toilet—the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) has described just one example of what Palestinians in Gaza are going through. Our heart goes out to her and her family, but also to all the civilians in Gaza who are affected by such appalling treatment at the moment. Many Israeli leaders have openly pushed for the expulsion of Palestinians from the Gaza strip and called for the second Nakba in Gaza. Will the Minister reassure the House that the British Government oppose any such attempt to forcibly expel and displace Palestinians from Gaza?

With such death, devastation and destruction, which we have all seen unfold in real time, constituents are asking whether there are any British fingerprints or funding to be found behind the bullets and bombs used in the horror show of Gaza and the west bank. The Minister talks of a two-state solution but, as has been pointed out, the Netanyahu regime and its ambassador to the UK have rejected this. How can we allow the present tactics to go on unabated, when there is no clear picture on how and when this will end?

The hon. Lady’s point underlines the vital importance of moving to a political track as soon as it is possible to do so.

Britain must maintain that international law is followed on the international stage, specifically the protection of civilians, including innocent children. Does the Minister agree that although the humanitarian pause was an important step—testing the negotiation and mediation of intermediaries, and, of course, the release of hostages—only a lasting ceasefire will bring about the conditions for peace? Does he also agree—we have heard it here in the Chamber today—that the Israeli Government have to accept that for them to have statehood and live in peace, they must want the same for their neighbour too?

That is why the Government are working towards a sustainable ceasefire. In the meantime, we are anxious to secure the necessary pauses so that aid can get into Gaza as speedily as possible.

I thank the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) for securing this urgent question and you, Mr Speaker, for granting it. My heart goes out to her family and everybody else caught up in this dreadful conflict.

I welcome the words of the Foreign Secretary calling for a sustainable ceasefire, which must see all the hostages released and fighting on both sides end. We need to get the aid in. Will the Minister say more about how we will permanently end this cycle of violence? How do we get a two-state solution?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He is right that we are not calling for a ceasefire and hoping that somehow it becomes more permanent. What we are doing is calling for a sustainable ceasefire that allows us to move towards the political track, which will then deliver what he is calling for.

I thank the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran). As we all get ready to celebrate Christmas with our families, she will be thinking desperately about her family, and I think about all the families who will not be together this Christmas.

Pauses are not enough to allow the rehabilitation of vital infrastructure. Due to repeated shutdowns of communications and internet services, Gaza is now in danger of becoming an information vacuum. Transparency is absolutely essential for holding military forces to account and preventing further humanitarian atrocities. Will the Minister please update the House on how the UK is working to ensure that the power and communications infrastructure is restored, so that we can get help and clarity for those in desperate need?

We are working to get to that point, but we are not there at the moment. We need to do everything we can to reconnect vital infrastructure that has been destroyed. It is not just about people suffering the effects of kinetic activity; it is also about the effect of the lack of food and growing disease. The hon. Lady may rest assured that, in respect of the infrastructure to which she refers, we will do everything we can when we get the opportunity.

I would like to be able to welcome the incremental move in the Foreign Secretary’s joint statement at the weekend, but given the desperate events in Gaza and the position of the vast majority of the rest of the world, these are just weasel words. The Government and those on the Labour Front Bench were rightly quick to condemn the heinous war crimes committed against civilians in Ukraine and by Hamas on 7 October. The Minister has repeatedly said that Israel needs to abide by international law, but he knows that Israel is not doing so. Is the cold-blooded killing of two civilian women seeking sanctuary in a church a war crime—yes or no?

In order to give an answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, I need to know the full facts, and I very much hope that the full facts will become available before too long.

The agenda of the Netanyahu Government is to save him from jail, wreak revenge on all Gazans for the crimes of Hamas, and recreate the Nakba in the occupied territories. The UK Government’s refusal to call for a ceasefire gives cover to this. How many tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians must be killed, and how many millions made refugees, starved or terrorised, before this Government call for it to stop, and to stop now?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is the Government’s position; we are not providing cover for anything. We are insistent that international humanitarian law should be accepted and respected, and we will do everything we can to get to the position of a sustainable ceasefire, but, as he will accept, we are not there yet. In the meanwhile, it is important to press for opportunities to get humanitarian aid and support into Gaza, to help people who are in a terrible position.

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is grave, with women and children sadly comprising the majority of civilian casualties. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu must understand that he cannot attain lasting peace and security by razing Gaza to the ground, which must be condemned. We do not just need an immediate cessation of fighting or a temporary week-long ceasefire like the one we had recently; we need negotiations to enable an enduring and permanent ceasefire. What are the UK Government doing to work with our international allies to enable just that?

The negotiations and discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu are widespread. The hon. Member will know that there have been regular discussions between our Prime Minister and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the Foreign Secretary has been a part of them as well. Indeed, I think Sir Tony Blair will also see Prime Minister Netanyahu shortly. So the hon. Member can rest assured that the urgency of the situation is being well ventilated by senior British politicians.

Last week, I too had the honour of meeting the heroic Professor Abu Sitta, along with the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) West and other colleagues from across the House. He gave the most harrowing account of his experience working as a surgeon, having to perform amputations on children without proper painkillers and using only vinegar and washing-up liquid to sterilise wounds due to Israel’s blockade on medical supplies. The doctor also spoke of the war crimes been committed, with the Israeli army dropping white phosphorus, which burns deep into the muscle and tissue of children, and snipers killing Palestinian doctors as they cared for the injured and dying. Will the Minister meet the professor to hear for himself about the unspeakable pain and suffering being meted out to innocent people and explain to him why this Government still refuse to condemn these heinous contraventions of international humanitarian law?

Either I or another Foreign Office Minister will certainly be pleased to meet the professor. The harrowing evidence to which the hon. Member referred merely underlines the critical importance of moving towards a sustainable ceasefire and, in the immediate future, securing the humanitarian pauses that we are all seeking.

While the Government should be leading the call for an immediate, complete and permanent ceasefire, what assurances has the Minister, the Foreign Secretary or indeed the Prime Minister had that actors in the conflict will abide by today’s UN Security Council resolution, should it pass?

The hon. Member is asking me to prophesy about the future. Let us see if we can secure a UN Security Council resolution, and then we can move to trying to ensure that everyone honours it.

The shooting of Yotam Haim, Alon Shamriz and Samer Talalka—the three Israeli hostages who were carrying a white flag—as well as the attack on the Catholic church, belie the IDF’s claim that its actions are precise and intelligence-led. There is now strong evidence, I believe, of war crimes. I accept what the Minister has said about calling for a ceasefire, and I hope that we get an immediate ceasefire ahead of Christmas. Will he help me with how two families I have can get out of Gaza: Alaa Safi, who has lost 50 members of her family, and Enas Alaloul, who have nothing to do with Hamas?

The hon. Member makes an important intervention about the humanitarian effects of what is going on in Gaza. But, as I have repeatedly said, that underlines the importance of the Government working day and night to try to deliver these pauses and then a sustainable ceasefire.

May I impress on the Minister my constituents’ strength of support on the need for an immediate ceasefire, not only because of the starvation we are beginning to see and the children being treated with washing-up liquid and vinegar, but because 93 health workers have reportedly been detained, with no information on their whereabouts or wellbeing? Will the Minister give the Government’s assessment of the ability of the International Committee of the Red Cross to access health workers detained by Israeli forces?

The position is unclear, but the Government’s focus is very clear: it is to deliver the humanitarian pauses that we require in order to secure the necessary humanitarian support inside Gaza.

Jabalia refugee camp, Shifa hospital, Omari mosque and the Holy Family church are all civilian targets that have been obliterated by Israeli bombing or attacked by IDF snipers. There are nearly 18,000 dead and nearly 1.5 million displaced. UN experts have warned that we are at risk of witnessing a genocide in the making in Gaza. Will the Minister now use all diplomatic measures, including sanctions, to compel Israel and Hamas to end alleged breaches of international law while also at last demanding a permanent, immediate ceasefire alongside the release of those hostages?

The hon. Member will have heard what I have said about the plausibility of an immediate and permanent ceasefire. On his point about the civilians who are in such extreme jeopardy, he will be aware that Hamas quite deliberately use civilians to defend themselves and for military purposes. That makes the situation all the more difficult to reach the progress that we all want to see.

I hope that the Government can support a UN resolution today, but we desperately need an immediate ceasefire, to protect the civilian population in Gaza and to create the space for dialogue for a permanent ceasefire. Once we get to that point, how does the Minister see the UK’s role in getting to the political solution on the ground and, in particular, ensuring that the Palestinian population is not permanently displaced?

I share with the hon. Member a view that a United Nations Security Council resolution is urgently needed, and I very much hope that it will be in a form that we can support shortly. With regard to a ceasefire, he will have heard what has been said from both the Government and the Opposition Front Benches about the plausibility of achieving that. With regard to the role that Britain will play once the sky clears and there is an opportunity for a political track, the Foreign Secretary is in the region today trying to advance precisely that.

It has been seven days since the American President warned that Israel was in danger of losing global support because of its indiscriminate bombing in Gaza. That warning clearly has not been heeded. I note what the Minister has said about no impunity for war crimes, but that comes after the event. What signal will the UN send today to Israel to say that the line has clearly been crossed, we cannot support it, and we do not condone what it has been doing in Gaza?

The hon. Lady is right to say that there have been far too many civilian casualties in this fighting and that a more surgical approach is required. That is very much what the Prime Minister and the British Government have called for. We will continue to work towards a more sustainable cessation of hostilities and a sustainable ceasefire in the way that I have described.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office website advises people who might be travelling to Ukraine:

“If you travel to Ukraine to fight, or to assist others engaged in the war, your activities may amount to offences under UK legislation and you could be prosecuted on your return to the UK.”

Why is there not a similar statement on the advice for travel to Israel?

I quote from a newspaper opinion column:

“Even if Israel manages to destroy Hamas, a similar movement will undoubtedly emerge from the destitution and despair of the Gaza Strip.”

That was written by the then Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in August 2014. What are the British Government doing to prevent the recurrence of the terrible violence we are seeing in another decade?

The hon. Member is right to point to the fact that this dispute has continued down the years. He will also have noticed that it was after the crisis of the Yom Kippur war that progress was made politically, and then again after the first intifada. We must all hope that after this dreadful situation moves into a sustainable ceasefire, the political track is once again able to grip these issues and ensure that a brighter future awaits. It is an issue that has poisoned the well of international opinion in the middle east and deserves resolution so that the children of those involved today can enjoy a better life than their parents.

I thank the Minister for his response, and for and his and the Government’s stance on Hamas, which are clearly a terrorist group. They are the baby killers, rapists and killers of innocent people—not just Israelis but innocent Palestinians. That is who Hamas are, and they must be destroyed. Can the Minister confirm, on day 74 of Israel’s response to the Hamas terrorist murders, whether he believes that we have been able to exert any meaningful influence to bring positive steps forward for the release of the hostages?

We are doing everything we possibly can to get the hostages out. The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot give the House a running commentary on that. In respect of his earlier comments, I thank him for his humanity and his wisdom. I wish a happy Christmas to him, you, Mr Speaker, and the whole House.