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Israel and Gaza

Volume 747: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2024

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question.

Israel suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history on 7 October last year. The scenes that we saw on that day were appalling, and Hamas’s disregard for civilian welfare continues today, more than five months later. We remember all the time those who are still being held hostage and their families, and we call once again for their immediate release. However, we naturally remain deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the impact of the conflict on all Palestinian civilians. We have borne witness to death and displacement on a vast scale. More than 1,700,000 people have had to leave their home, many on multiple occasions. We are deeply concerned about the growing risk of famine, exacerbated by the spread of disease, and, of course, about the terrible psychosocial impacts of the conflict, which will be felt for years to come.

We are totally committed to getting humanitarian aid to all those people in Gaza who desperately need it, doing so either ourselves or through UN agencies and British or other charities. We and our partners are pushing to get aid in through all feasible means, by land, sea and air. We have trebled our aid funding to the Occupied Palestinian Territories this year, providing just under £100 million, of which £70 million has been delivered as humanitarian assistance. On 13 March a further 150 tonnes of UK aid arrived in Gaza, including 840 family tents, 13,440 blankets, nearly 3,000 shelter kits and shelter fixing kits, 6,000 sleeping mats, and more than 3,000 dignity kits. A field hospital, provided through UK aid funding to UK-Med, arrived in Gaza from Manchester last Friday. This facility, staffed by UK and local medics, will be able to treat more than 100 patients a day. Along with Cyprus, the United States, the United Arab Emirates and others, Britain will help to deliver humanitarian aid by sea to a new temporary US military pier in Gaza via a maritime corridor from Cyprus.

We have made it clear, however, that air and sea deliveries cannot be a substitute for the delivery of aid through land routes. Only through those routes can the demand for the volume of aid that is now required be met. We continue to press Israel to open more land crossings for longer, and with fewer screening requirements. There is no doubt that land crossings are the most effective means of getting aid into Gaza, and Israel must do more. There is also no doubt that the best way to bring an end to the suffering is to agree an immediate humanitarian pause, and progress towards a sustainable, permanent ceasefire without a return to destruction, fighting and loss of life. Reaching that outcome is the focus of all our diplomatic efforts right now, and a goal that is shared by our international partners. We urge all sides to seize the opportunity, and continue negotiations to reach an agreement as soon as possible.

Yesterday, a UN-backed report revealed the shocking reality that famine in Gaza is imminent. Half the population is expected to face catastrophic levels of hunger—the highest number of people ever recorded as being in that category under this system. Only twice in 20 years have famine conditions been reached, but what distinguishes the horror in Gaza from what has come before is that it is not driven by drought or natural disaster; it is man-made. It is the consequence of war. It is the consequence of aid that is available not reaching those who need it. Food is piled up in trucks just a few kilometres away, while children in Gaza are starving. It is unbearable, and it must not go on.

International law is clear: Israel has an obligation to ensure the provision of aid. The binding measures ordered by the International Court of Justice require it. The world has demanded it for months, yet still aid flows are woefully inadequate. Aid actually fell by half between January and February. That is outrageous. The continued restrictions on aid flows are completely unacceptable, and must stop now—just as Hamas must release the hostages now. I do not doubt that the Minister agrees with me, but will he have the courage to say that the ICJ’s orders, including on aid, are binding, and that Israel must comply with them? Do the lawyers at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office believe that Israel is currently in compliance with its obligations?

Amid this accelerating hunger crisis, Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly approved plans for an offensive against Rafah. That would risk catastrophic humanitarian consequences. It would be a disaster for civilians and a strategic mistake. How are the Government working to prevent a further attack on Rafah? The truth is this: it will not be possible to address the crisis in Gaza if the fighting does not stop—and that is also the best way to secure the release of hostages. Will the Government finally join us and dozens of countries, and call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions and comments, which I will try to deal with more or less sequentially. First, he asked me about the reports of famine. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC, report is clear: it says that famine is a very real scenario. We are doing everything we can to try to head that off, as I set out in my response to the urgent question. In addition to famine, there is also the danger of disease, the lack of health services, and the acute danger from the lack of clean water and effective sanitation. We are doing everything we can to head off the appalling circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman set out.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the number of trucks. I can tell him that on Sunday, 192 trucks did get in, but that is woefully short of what is required. It is more than have been getting in in March, which has averaged 165 each day so far, and in February that figure was only 97—although he will be well aware that before the crisis, more than 500 trucks a day were getting in.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the ICJ. As everyone in the House will know, the ICJ judgment is binding. In respect of the offensive against Rafah, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, and indeed all our allies, have consistently warned that an offensive against Rafah at this time would have the most appalling humanitarian consequences.

May I finish by taking the point that the right hon. Gentleman again made about a ceasefire? As far as I am aware, the position of the Labour Front Bench is still the same as the position of the Government: we are calling for an immediate pause so that we can get the hostages out and aid in—followed, we hope, by a sustainable ceasefire. That is what we are working towards.

May I start by putting on the record my gratitude to the Minister for the Middle East, who made significant representations ahead of Ramadan to reduce tensions in Jerusalem and allow access to the Al-Aqsa mosque, which so far remains calm? The IPC report makes for breathtakingly difficult reading and the humanitarian situation is catastrophic, but it need not be. May I ask that we please push harder on truck entry from Jordan and ensure that it is fully operationalised, and can my right hon. Friend tell me when the House will be formally updated on whether Israel is demonstrating commitment to international humanitarian law?

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments about my colleague Lord Ahmad, the Minister for the Middle East, which I will pass on to him. In respect of international humanitarian law, we are going through the necessary legal processes, which are complex, but I can tell her that as soon as we are in a position to update the House on what we have set out clearly before, we will do so.

I take absolutely no satisfaction in saying that a month ago in this Chamber I said that innocent people will die because of Israel’s decision to prevent food from getting to those who need it. The reports of an imminent famine should surprise no one; we have all known that this deliberate, man-made famine was coming. The Foreign Affairs Committee has just returned from al-Arish, on the Egypt-Gaza border, where we saw hundreds and hundreds of lorryloads of food and aid waiting for permission to get into Gaza.

Let us be very clear about our language here: the people of Gaza are not starving; they are being starved. Does the Minister accept that there is no food shortage in the region? Does he accept that people are starving to death just 44 miles from Tel Aviv—the distance between Glasgow and Edinburgh—as a direct result of the Israeli siege and the premeditated decision to cut off food supplies? Does he also accept that starving a civilian population to death is a war crime? Finally, does he still believe that the UK is right, both legally and morally, to continue selling weapons to Israel?

On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, he is well aware of the arms sales regime that Britain adopts. As I have said to him before from the Dispatch Box, it is the toughest regime anywhere in the world. [Interruption.] If I may say so, the difference between him and me is that he sees things as we would wish them to be, but we in the Government have to deal with them as they are. That is why we are taking so many steps to try to achieve the release of the hostages, and to get aid and support into Gaza.

One of the points the hon. Gentleman makes is right, and it is echoed by the shadow Foreign Secretary: the way to get aid into Gaza is by road and by truck. Of course we are doing everything we can to explore every way, including the maritime route and dropping aid from the air, but at the end of the day, aid is delivered by road. That is one reason why we are working so closely with Jordan to ensure that the aid route into Gaza by road is enhanced. At the end of the day, that is the right route to get aid in, and we are doing everything we can to try to make sure that it is pursued.

Last time, I asked my right hon. Friend about progress on trying to have a hostage transfer, because right at the core of this conflict is the visceral feeling of the Israelis that they want their people home, which anyone can understand. Has any progress been made, and would he like to update the House on where we are with that?

I completely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend, which is why trying to get the hostages home and out of Gaza, and trying to get food in, are absolutely our twin objectives. In an extremely difficult circumstance, Britain is certainly right at the front of all countries in trying to achieve that. It would not be sensible for me to give the House a running commentary on hostage release, but he will have seen that negotiations have resumed in Qatar. Obviously, everyone in the House will hope that those negotiations are both speedy and successful.

A new independent multi-agency investigation by the United Nations into an Israeli military airstrike on a residential compound housing an emergency medical team—including from Medical Aid for Palestinians, a UK charity—has found that it most likely involved a 1,000 lb US-manufactured bomb fired from an F-16 jet. Those F-16s include parts supplied by the UK. Can the Minister today set out conclusively that no parts supplied by the UK were used to bomb a compound housing medical staff from a UK charity—will he rule that out?

The events that the hon. Gentleman describes are appalling, and what the British Government would say is that there must be a full and transparent inquiry and examination into how those events took place.

It remains incredible that some people in this place can barely utter a word of criticism of the Hamas regime in Gaza, who themselves are being accused of stealing and hoarding aid. With regard to the operation in Rafah, the Israeli Government have been very clear that hostages are being held there and that some of them have been subjected to sexual violence and other abuse. Are we saying to the Israeli Government that they have no right to go in and seek to rescue those hostages?

No. As my hon. Friend knows, we have been absolutely clear throughout that Israel has the right to self-defence, and what he is describing is covered by the right to self-defence. He sets out eloquently that absolute blame for what has happened lies with Hamas for perpetrating the events of 7 October, and once again he is absolutely right to set out that context.

We are talking as if famine is imminent, but the fact is that the UN reports that 27 Palestinian children have already died from starvation and hunger. Josep Borrell has said that hunger should not be used as a weapon of war, and I hope that the Minister would agree. We need that ceasefire immediately. We need it to get the hostages out, we need it to get aid in, and we need it to get all the killing to stop. My question to the Minister is simple. What we are doing is not working, but there is one more thing we can do, which is to change how we vote at the Security Council. Will the UK stop abstaining and join the rest of the world in calling for that immediate ceasefire now?

The hon. Lady speaks on these matters with great knowledge and great sincerity, and I greatly respect what she says. The problem with calling for an immediate ceasefire is that it may salve our consciences but it is not deliverable, because neither side in this appalling brutality is willing to embrace a ceasefire. That is why the policy of the British Government is to argue in every way we can for a pause, so that we can get the hostages out and get aid in, which can then lead to a sustainable ceasefire. That is what we will continue to do in all international fora, including the United Nations.

Over the past few months we have all listened to the Minister explaining that the Government have been begging, pleading with and pressing the Israeli Government to allow more aid in, but seemingly to little effect. Has he now reached the conclusion that the Israeli Government are wilfully obstructing the entrance of aid into the Gaza strip? If so, that would presumably be a breach of the International Court of Justice’s ruling, and indeed of international humanitarian law. What would be the consequence of that conclusion?

I do not agree with my right hon. Friend’s premise, because I do not think we are in the position to reach that judgment, but the point he is making is that it is essential to get more food, aid, support and medicine into Gaza, and every day the British Government are working intently to that end.

Mr Speaker,

“Famine is a reality…the highest hunger level of anywhere else in the world in terms of total numbers…all manmade…A ceasefire is an absolute requirement”.

Those are the words of Matthew Hollingsworth, the country director of the World Food Programme, and of the UN Secretary-General. Starvation is indeed being used as a weapon of war. In Gaza, it is clear that Israel is engineering a famine for more than 2 million civilians. It is also clear that UK diplomacy has failed, so the Minister must now indicate what action the Government will take to escalate pressure to stop Israel’s military assault, to demand a ceasefire and to ensure that emergency assistance is provided through UNWRA to those being starved to death.

I think that many people in Israel and elsewhere will find part of what the hon. Lady has said profoundly offensive. She is right to say that the characteristics of famine are present in Gaza, as I set out in my earlier response, and that is why we are doing everything we can, together with our allies, to get as much food and support into Gaza as possible.

Officials on the ground have stated that Hamas are appropriating —or misappropriating—as much as 60% of the humanit-arian aid entering the Gaza strip. This is part of a long pattern of prioritising fighters, abusing aid to produce rockets and using construction materials to build hundreds of miles of tunnels for their terror activities. We know that they do it; they have done it for years and they are doing it now. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that Hamas are flagrantly disregarding the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, while Israel has been increasing the amount of aid going in exponentially?

I very much agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that Hamas are using ordinary people in Gaza as a human shield. It is utterly repugnant as well as completely against international humanitarian law and, like him, I condemn it.

Humanitarian organisations have been warning repeatedly that this would happen. A group of us met them last week, and when this conflict started I met Islamic Relief, which is based in my constituency. We now end up here, where we are seeing healthcare being attacked and systematically degraded. We are seeing no safe zones left. We are told of the onset of famine, and that the number of people being killed keeps rising. Will the Minister finally please listen to the calls of Members across this House, of the international communities and of the people working on the ground and call for an immediate ceasefire and unrestricted aid?

I have set out several times already today why calling for an immediate ceasefire may make us feel better but is not a practical resolution. That is why—[Interruption.] There is no difference between the analysis that the hon. Lady makes, and the NGOs in her constituency, and my analysis. The question is: what do we do about it? That is why Britain, along with our allies, is continuously, on a 24/7 basis, doing everything practical that we can to get more food and support into Gaza.

My right hon. Friend has mentioned the floating pier to be constructed by the United States. What assurances has he received that the pier will be used solely for the delivery of humanitarian aid and not, as has been suggested, subsequently repurposed for military use?

It is early days yet to see precisely how that maritime initiative will deliver, but I do not believe that what my right hon. Friend fears will be allowed to happen as we tackle that issue. We are giving strong support to all mechanisms for getting aid into Gaza—air, sea and land—but he, like me, will understand that the best mechanism is always by land.

I do not think I have ever received as many emails of concern from constituents as I have about the situation in Gaza. As has already been said, over 500,000 Palestinians are at starvation levels and 27 children and three adults have died so far as a result of starvation and dehydration. In the words of Medical Aid for Palestinians:

“This is not happening because the rains have failed or there has been a poor harvest. It is because…the Israeli authorities refuse to allow enough food into Gaza”.

So I have this question for the Minister, and my Edinburgh South West constituents will be listening to the answer: does he agree that starvation as a weapon of war is a war crime?

The point that I hope the hon. and learned Lady will make to her Edinburgh constituents is that she and I, the Government and the whole House are intent on ensuring that more food and more support get into Gaza as rapidly as possible. That is what the Government are doing every day.

I welcome the hard work that the Minister is doing to get more aid in, to bring an end to the fighting and to get the hostages released, but it is appalling to think that large numbers of innocent people, including children, are about to starve when there is aid just over the border. He is right that aid must flow across the border and that it is better to transport it in trucks, but if that is not possible, we must think of this like the Berlin airlift. We have to get aid in by sea and by airdrops. I welcome what the Americans are doing to drop aid on the shore, and we have to do whatever it takes to get the aid to the kids who are going to starve unless we get it to them.

I completely agree with the sentiments that my hon. Friend expresses so profoundly. He is right that every single mechanism must be explored, but he will know that the amount of aid we can drop from the air, the danger to those underneath and the danger of the aid being misappropriated and stolen by Hamas are very real difficulties. He will also be fully aware of the difficulties of maritime entry. That is why we are doing everything we can to argue for more points of entry into Gaza, more trucks and more land routes to get the aid in that is desperately needed.

The ICJ’s interim ruling makes it clear that the killing of Palestinians in Gaza must stop, but it has not; that immediate humanitarian aid must be allowed into Gaza, but it is not; and that the safety and security of civilians must be guaranteed, but it is not. As a result, more than 1 million Palestinians in Gaza are left starving and on the brink of famine, as confirmed by today’s IPC report.

The Israeli Government continue to flout international law by using starvation as a weapon of war. Children are starving, civilians are being killed and medical facilities are being attacked. What will it take for this Government to stand with international humanitarian law and oppose the actions of the Israeli military? How many more innocent Palestinians must be massacred? How many more children must die through starvation? When will the Government call for an immediate ceasefire?

The one thing that is missing from the hon. Gentleman’s list is an urgent call for the release of the hostages.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, Israel must do more. We set out very clearly the five steps it needs to take: an immediate humanitarian pause; increased capacity for aid distribution inside Gaza; increased humanitarian access through land and maritime routes; expanded types of humanitarian assistance allowed into Gaza, such as shelter and items critical for infrastructure repair; and the resumption of electricity, water and telecommunications services. I hope that we can unite with everyone else in this House on going after those five key aims.

The Israeli hostages must be released, and innocent Palestinians in Gaza must be supported. The Foreign Affairs Committee met Egyptian President el-Sisi when we were in the Gaza border region a fortnight ago. What particular support can this country provide to the Egyptians on delivering aid and averting a potential humanitarian and refugee crisis if the situation is not stabilised?

I thank my hon. Friend and all the Select Committee members for their work, their visits and the powerful arguments they have added to those of the Government.

In response to my hon. Friend’s direct question, I met the head of the Egyptian Red Crescent in Egypt. We are in very close contact to make sure that British aid and British support enhance the excellent efforts that the Red Crescent is doing everything it possibly can to prosecute.

It is clear that Prime Minister Netanyahu has not taken the slightest notice of anything the British Government or even the Americans have been saying. Mrs Thatcher suspended arms sales to Israel in 1982, and Tony Blair did the same in 2002. What on earth would it take for this Government to follow their example?

The right hon. Gentleman refers to the views of Prime Minister Netanyahu, and he will know that both our Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have engaged directly with Prime Minister Netanyahu to ensure that he is fully aware of what Britian thinks.

The right hon. Gentleman will also be aware that Israel is a pluralist democracy—the only one in the region. He will be aware that Israeli Minister Benny Gantz, whom the Foreign Secretary recently met in London, has different views from Prime Minister Netanyahu. There are many different views, and Britain strongly supports the views that I have set out to the House today.

It is not for Ministers to make policy on arms sales and the arms regime from the Dispatch Box. It is for the proper due processes—as laid down and approved by Parliament, and as laid down in law—and that is what we follow.

Given the impending famine in Gaza, as outlined by the IPC report, will the UK align with the EU, Sweden, Australia, Canada and many other countries by restoring funding to UNRWA as the most effective way to urgently and immediately scale up the delivery of aid, food and medical supplies to Gaza?

As my hon. Friend knows, we expect the report from the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services and, indeed, the interim report from Catherine Colonna, the former Foreign Minister of France, tomorrow, and we will read it with very great interest. Catherine Colonna is working with the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden, the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Norway and the Danish Institute for Human Rights, and we hope that her report will show a road map by which funding to UNRWA from Britain and many other countries can be restored.

My hon. Friend will equally be aware that UNRWA is fully funded for some months hence, and that British funding is fully paid up until into the next financial year.

It is estimated that people in northern Gaza have gone entire days and nights without heating at least 10 times over the last 30 days. Lord Cameron has said that UNRWA is the only body with a distribution network in Gaza, and the Minister mentions the report that will hopefully be available tomorrow. Will he assure the House that the UK Government will take a decision on resuming funding as soon as possible, and at least before the end of this month, which is only 12 days away?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a precise timetable, but I can answer yes to his question about it being done as soon as we think it is possible to do so.

Every life matters, whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, another faith or no faith. At the centre of this crisis—a crisis started on 7 October by Hamas’s unprovoked attack on innocent civilians—whatever their faith or lack of faith, are children, women, men and vulnerable people who are suffering right now as we go off to our lunch or afternoon tea.

The Minister will know that I have been supportive of the Government, and that I will continue to be, but I hope he will note a change in tone. The figures vary, but it is estimated that 30,000 civilians and roughly 10,000 Hamas terrorists have been killed in Gaza. If it is true that 10,000 other terrorists are despicably hiding in Rafah among the civilian population, making it difficult to deliver aid, are we likely to see another 30,000 civilians killed so that Israel can find those terrorists? What is the British Government’s position? Is this something the Minister would support?

The awful symmetry that my right hon. Friend sets out is certainly one that no one wants to see. But the point he made so eloquently earlier in his question, setting out the views and feelings he holds, is widely reflected across the House, and I agree with him.

Half the population of Gaza is at risk of imminent famine, described by Melanie Ward of Medical Aid for Palestinians as meaning starvation, destitution, acute malnutrition and death. So does the Minister agree that all available aid corridors must be opened without delay and that there must be an immediate ceasefire, to enable food, water and urgent medical supplies to reach more than 1 million people in desperate need? All hostages must be released and this living hell must end.

I agree with almost everything the hon, Lady has said, but she will be aware, from what I have said today and previously, that calling for an immediate ceasefire is not, in the opinion of the British Government, a practical proposition. That is why we continually argue for a humanitarian pause, so that we can get the hostages out and food in, followed by a sustainable ceasefire.

Yesterday, the Israeli Prime Minister vowed to press ahead with the assault on Rafah, despite warnings from the international community. The prospect of millions in Rafah, who are there only as they desperately escape conflict to the north, being subjected to further suffering is intolerable. Will the Minister update the House on work that is going on with our international partners to make clear those concerns to the Israeli Government, while continuing to press Hamas to release the hostages?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her call for the release of the hostages. In respect of any military operations in Rafah, may I draw her attention to the words of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister about the terrible dangers, loss of life and humanitarian consequences involved in that? She, like me and, I hope, everyone else in the House, will be hoping that no such operation goes ahead.

I have no problem condemning Hamas, but I also have no problem condemning the use of starvation as an act of war. Israel has control on the ground in Gaza—enough to oversee the distribution of aid and to make sure it gets to the people who need it most. Do the Government agree that Israel, as the occupying force, has a legal duty to oversee the distribution of that aid?

The important point about the distribution of aid is that it should be able to get into Gaza, preferably through road and land routes. I set out for the House earlier the amounts that are getting in. Although they are increasing, they are nothing like adequate and do not come anywhere near the numbers before 7 October. That is why the Government are doing everything they can to augment those figures.

We all want to see a ceasefire that is sustainable and holds out the prospect of a lasting peace. But the very definition of the word “ceasefire” means that both sides have to agree to end hostilities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that anyone calling for an immediate ceasefire needs to make it clear that that must include Hamas releasing the hostages, ceasing all hostilities and committing to a future peace?

My hon. Friend is correct in what he says, but the important point, which I have repeatedly made in the House, is that in order to have a ceasefire we have to have agreement from those taking part in these actions that they will abide by a ceasefire. Israel has the right of self-defence and the right to protect itself from the appalling acts that Hamas perpetrated on 7 October ever taking place again. Hamas have made it clear that they wish to repeat those awful acts. Those things do not sound to me like a strong basis for having a ceasefire.

Three standout statements from today have been that starvation is being used as a weapon of war; Israel is provoking famine; and the UK is still selling arms to Israel. When will the Minister understand the damning nature of this and the damage it is doing to the UK’s international reputation—or, rather, what is left of it?

We have been clear that Israel has the right of self-defence but it must abide by international humanitarian law and the rules of war. Britain is one of the leading nations on finding ways to get aid into Gaza and helping our allies and other regional powers to do everything we can to get the hostages out. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is proud of our country’s intervention in both those respects.

I welcome the recent news that the UK will be sending a UK Aid field hospital to Gaza. What assurances have been sought and what assurances have been given in respect of sufficient force protection for all the staff there, some of whom may be British?

We are acutely conscious of the way in which humanitarian workers—not just in Gaza, but all around the world—put themselves, unarmed, in harm’s way for the sake of their fellow human beings. My hon. Friend is right to say that a field hospital provided by UK Aid funding to UK-Med arrived in Gaza from Manchester last Friday. That facility is staffed by UK and local medics, who will be able to treat more than 100 patients a day. We are acutely conscious of the contribution they are making and we do everything we can to ensure that they are protected.

To any reasonable and informed observer, the conduct of the war in Gaza by Israel contravenes basic international humanitarian law, in failing to distinguish between armed combatants and civilians, in using force beyond what is militarily necessary, and in offences against the prohibition of inflicting unnecessary injury, and it is wholly disproportionate. More than 100,000 Palestinians have now been killed or injured by Israeli forces in Gaza since last October. The Minister relies on Israel being a democracy that is capable of abiding by its legal obligations, but the overwhelming evidence is that it is not doing so, so what legal advice has he received about the complicity of and dangers to our country in failing to take sufficient action under the relevant treaties to which this country is a signatory, to deter such gross breaches of international humanitarian law?

As I said, we continue to assess Israel’s commitment and capability to comply with international humanitarian law. Those assessments are supported by a detailed evidence base, conflict analysis, reporting from charities, non-governmental organisations, international bodies and partner countries, statements and reports by the Israeli Government, and their track record of compliance. We take all of that into account in making our judgments. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that when it comes to targeting and military action, the Israel Defence Forces have their own lawyers embedded in those units, in much the same way of prudence that the British military do. That is not something we see in any other force in the region and it should give some confidence that the Israelis are seeking to abide by international humanitarian law.

I welcome reports that Israel is opening new routes to directly deliver humanitarian aid into northern Gaza, amid a slowdown in UN operations and the widespread Hamas misappro-priation of that aid, which was referenced earlier. Significantly, at the same time, every day the IDF documents more and more Hamas infrastructure, weapons and missiles within civilian buildings—this week at al-Shifa Hospital and last month underneath UNRWA’s own headquarters. So is the grim reality not that as long as Hamas remain in control of Gaza, no matter how many times people cry for a ceasefire, there can be no peace?

As my hon. Friend sets out, it is clear that there is no place for Hamas in any future for Gaza. What happened on 7 October is uniquely appalling and I agree with him that until Hamas are removed from Gaza, the opportunity of peace is very limited.

The UN’s special rapporteur has been crystal clear that arms sales to Israel for use in Gaza are unlawful, given the clear risk that they will be used to violate international humanitarian law. Yet the Government have consistently refused to disclose whether licences, for example, for F-35 fighter planes, have been reviewed, let alone amended. Will the Minister take the opportunity finally to give Parliament a straight answer on this? I do not want to be told that reviews are possible, because we know that. I want to know whether those reviews have happened and whether he is going to publish the details. I do not want him to tell us simply that the arms regime in the UK is the toughest in the world. I know that, but it gives no reassurance at all to the more than 1 million people facing famine in Gaza right now.

The hon. Lady asks me whether these matters are kept under review, and I can assure her that they are always kept under review. Equally, they are not decided at the whims of Ministers standing at the Dispatch Box; they are decided through a detailed, proper, legally governed, code-governed process, and that, as always, is what the Government are doing.

As we debate this topic, children are starving to death in Gaza. Babies are so malnourished that UNICEF says that they do not have the energy to cry. Famine is not just imminent; it is happening, according to the head of Refugees International. This is not a natural disaster and it is not accidental; it is intentional. Israel is using starvation as a weapon of war to collectively punish the Palestinian people. Israel blocks food from entering Gaza while bombing the people trapped inside. Will the Minister finally admit that officials have warned him that Israel is breaking international humanitarian law, or does his whole Department refuse to accept the truth that Israel is committing war crime after war crime in Gaza?

The hon. Lady uses florid language to describe these matters, but I hope that she will agree that the right thing is to do everything we possibly can to get the hostages out, support the people whom she so eloquently describes, and get support into Gaza, and that is what the Government are seeking to do.

Every month in Hammersmith, we hold “Ukrainian open house” to bring together all those supporting Ukrainian families who have fled that war. Every month, I am asked why there are not similar visa schemes to allow Palestinians to join their relatives in the UK, or to be hosted by families who wish to give them refuge here. What is the Government’s answer to that?

The Government’s answer is that the two positions are not analogous; they are very, very different. The hon. Member will know that we are doing everything we can to help individual cases in both instances, and we will continue to do so.

Save the Children has reported that 1.1 million people across Gaza are facing catastrophic food insecurity at the hands of Israel, with one in three children acutely malnourished. Does the Minister agree that Israel’s tactic of starving the Palestinian people is a war crime?

As I have set out several times, we are doing all we can to make sure that the necessary food and resources get into Gaza, so the point that Save the Children makes in the evidence that the hon. Member read out is addressed, and we will continue to do precisely that.

The Minister will know that the UK supplies approximately 15% of the components used in F-35 stealth bombers currently being deployed in Gaza—the very same bombers allegedly being deployed from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. Earlier this month, a Dutch court ordered the country’s Government to block all exports of F-35 parts to Israel after concerns that they were being used, in violation of international law, during the ongoing war in Gaza. Will the Minister commit today to suspending the supply of F-35 components, and will he also confirm whether RAF bases are being used as a launch pad for bombing in Gaza, or indeed, in any military operations supportive of the IDF and the Israeli military forces?

I repeat that these decisions are not made at the whim of a Minister standing at the Dispatch Box. They are made in the normal way through a proper legal and coded practice. The Government will always operate on that basis in these situations.

Canada, Australia, Sweden and the European Union have now confirmed that they will restore the funding to UNWRA, refuting Israel’s position that 450 members of the agency’s staff had participated in the 7 October attack. With people dying from the imminent famine in Gaza and Palestinians being killed trying to get flour to feed their families, the international community holds a degree of responsibility for failing to stop this situation. In light of the catastrophic situation in Gaza, will the Minister commit to restarting and increasing this funding to UNRWA as a matter of urgency?

We have already increased funding significantly, including to UNRWA. The hon. Member will know that Britain is not at the moment in the position of having to make that decision, because we have fully funded what we said we would fund and are not due to provide any further money until the end of April. The answer to his question, I hope, will be contained in the report from the Office for Internal Oversight Services and from Catherine Colonna’s interim report, which we are expecting tomorrow. I know that, like me, he will read it with great care in the hope that it shows a suitable way ahead that we can all endorse.

Can the Minister try to help the House in understanding the Government’s position on who they believe is directly responsible for blocking the aid going into Gaza? What is the Government’s direct response to the comments of the UN Secretary-General, who has said that this is the highest number of people facing catastrophic hunger ever recorded by the integrated food security system anywhere?

Regardless of the accuracy of those final comments, there is no doubt at all, as I set out in my earlier responses, that the IPC report says that

“famine is a very real scenario”.

That is why we are trying to do everything we can, by every possible means, to make sure that aid gets into Gaza. I have explained to the House the difficulties of the air and maritime options, but those difficulties are not stopping us from pursuing those opportunities. At the end of the day, it is by agreement with Israel that we will get more trucks in, open up more points of entry, and find other ways of bringing aid in by road. We are pursuing all those matters and will continue to do so.

The need for an arms embargo in Israel was laid out by the International Court of Justice in January due to genocidal risk and serious harm to civilians. Since then, we have had no action from Ministers. UN experts have rightly called for hostage exchange and release, but they have also warned that the transfer of weapons or ammunition to Israel should cease immediately. We have seen more than 13,000 children killed, the destruction of 60% of civilian homes and hospitals destroyed. Water and food supplies are so low that Gaza is already in the midst of a catastrophic, man-made, state-made famine.

The Minister boasted moments ago that the UK has an arms licensing framework with some of the toughest regulations in the world. It is plain for all to see that that claim is in tatters. When will Ministers finally match their words with actions, hold the Israeli Government to these standards, and hear the calls from aid agencies, the UN and my constituents to stop arms sales to Israel and to stop the onslaught against innocent Palestinian men, women and children?

As I have repeatedly said to the House, the issue of arms sales is dealt with in a legal and coded way. The Government have no intention of varying from that process. It has been shown, as I have said before, that we have the toughest regulatory regime in the world and we continually keep it under review. None the less, it is important that these things are done properly and in accordance with the rules laid down by Parliament and laid down by the law, and we will not vary that.

In respect of the early part of the hon. Member’s question, I agree that it is essential that we are able to get more supplies into Gaza. We spend all our time arguing for new ways of entry and for new opportunities to get aid in, but, as I set out in our five key aims, we want the resumption of electricity, water and telecommunication services as well as infrastructure repair to start as soon as possible.

Across the House, we are all desperate to see the release of the hostages, but the negotiations for their release are not aided by the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and detention centres. The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, has reported that 27 Palestinian detainees have died in Israeli custody since the war and some during direct questioning. It has reported beatings, abuse, torture, sexual assault, and prisoners being prevented access to doctors, lawyers and medication. A magistrate in Jerusalem has reported that the prisoners are detained in cages not fit for human beings. Now we have had the family of Marwan Barghouti, the Palestinian leader who many hope will secure peace, say that he has been beaten with clubs by guards. Will the Minister demand that the Israeli Government provide access to the detention centres and prisons for humanitarian bodies to investigate these abuses and bring forward a report, which, hopefully, will end the abuse and assist in the negotiations for the release of the hostages?

The right hon. Gentleman has put his finger specifically on the treatment of detainees. As he will be aware, the treatment of detainees is governed by international humanitarian law and the Geneva convention. He will have seen what the Foreign Secretary has said about the treatment of detainees, and Britain has consistently called for an inquiry, and for transparency in that inquiry, into any alleged abuses.

The Minister has laid great weight this afternoon on the legal and coded process that governs the export of arms, but a new international humanitarian law compliance assessment process cell has been created in his Department. Will he publish every assessment that that cell has made of Israel’s compliance with international humanitarian law, and will he tell the House whether the threshold has now been reached to review or cancel any extant open general export licence for arms sales?

The right hon. Gentleman has served at a senior level in government and knows what Governments do and do not publish. However, he can rest assured that when we receive advice on international humanitarian law, we look at it extremely carefully, and when the Law Officers make their judgments on this matter, we come to the House and update it. That is what we will do in due course.

Many of us in this place have been calling since November for the release of the hostages, the removal of Hamas, an immediate bilateral ceasefire, and humanitarian aid. Sometimes, it seems the only thing that has changed is that the situation has got worse for people in Gaza. My constituents write to me constantly. They feel that the Israeli Government are ignoring pleas, and that the people of Palestine have been abandoned. The Minister said that he would do whatever it took in this situation —I have every respect for him and believe him when he says that.

Does the Minister accept that one of the biggest barriers to peace is illegal Israeli settlement in the west bank? Recently, there were sanctions against four Israeli settlers who had committed human rights abuses against Palestinians. The Liberal Democrats hope that that is just the start. Will the UK Government consider sanctioning Ministers Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, who promote that extremist agenda, and all the settler movements connected to them in a way that finally makes a difference to what is happening?

The hon. Lady will be aware that Britain has consistently condemned settler violence. We have made it clear that we expect those responsible to be caught, arrested, tried and punished for it, and we will continue to do so. As she mentions, four settlers have been sanctioned. We do not discuss on the Floor of the House the operations of the sanctions regime, but she may rest assured that the opinion of the Government is that the settlements and the acts that she described are illegal, and we will do everything we can to ensure that they stop.

As MPs from right across the House have said this afternoon, children in Gaza are starving—they are being starved—and we cannot tolerate it. If the UK’s standing on the rules-based order and international humanitarian law is to be worth anything around the world, the ICJ ruling must be binding, and there must be consequences for failure to comply with it. What are those consequences?

The hon. Lady says that people are starving in Gaza. Everyone agrees that that is the case. The issue is what we can constructively do to bring about an end to the very worrying starvation figures that have been revealed this week. We are doing and will continue to do everything we can. I have set out at some length to the House the various different ways in which we are trying to achieve that.

I will follow on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), which went to the heart of the situation. My constituents are heartbroken by the images that they are being sent from Gaza of children dying of hunger, and they want to know why the world is largely doing nothing to help them. I believe in the rules-based system, which is under enormous strain right now from a variety of different quarters. International law matters, and we must show leadership when it comes to the rulings of international institutions such as the ICJ. What is Britain doing to ensure that Israel and other parties hold to the rule of international law and the judgments of the ICJ?

The hon. Gentleman says that his constituents are heartbroken by what is happening; we are all heartbroken by what is happening. The issue is what we do about it. I have set out throughout the course of the last hour a number of ways in which Britain is showing real leadership in trying to address the humanitarian situation and to ensure that negotiations to get the hostages out are successful. We will, along with our allies, continue to bend every sinew to ensure that everything that can be done is done.

The Minister spoke of the detailed evidence that his Government are relying on, but the world’s media are prevented from reporting inside Gaza almost entirely. If we saw the daily reality of life there in more detail, I suspect the international pressure on Israel would be even stronger. What are the UK Government doing to ensure that any deliberate targeting of journalists—particularly Palestinian journalists—who are protected under international humanitarian law, is being passed on to the International Criminal Court for its investigation into war crimes?

As I have set out, in the IDF—as in the British military—the issue of targeting is, unusually, governed by legal advice. Lawyers are embedded with the people who are making those decisions. In respect of the media, any such targeting would be absolutely outrageous. I pay tribute to the brave journalists who are ensuring that accurate reporting comes back from Gaza and the middle east.

I want to make it clear that I have opposed Hamas since 2007, I deplore the action taken on 7 October, and I totally believe that the hostages on both sides must be released. However, I agree with the Minister that the Israeli blockade is leading to famine and to death and displacement. Young children are dying of malnutrition and hunger. He says continually that the two sides will not sit down together. Why, then, does he not put a Security Council resolution to the United Nations to ensure that something is done on an international level, such as putting in a peacekeeping force to deal with the issue and allow people to continue normal lives?

The House will understand that the issue of a policing force inside Gaza is premature. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about Hamas and for what he said about deploring all the things that Hamas have done—I agree with him about that. He sets out the scale of humanitarian need. Throughout this urgent question, I have been setting out how Britain is, along with our allies, seeking to help move the dial to get more aid and support into Gaza and get the hostages out.

In terms of the United Nations Security Council and its resolutions, the hon. Gentleman will know that Britain is one of the leading architects of those resolutions in our role as one of the permanent five in New York. I pay tribute to Barbara Woodward, Britain’s permanent representative at the United Nations. The British mission at the UN is working ceaselessly to ensure that there is agreement on resolutions that can help bring an end to this.

The unfolding famine is entirely man-made and is being used as a weapon of war by Israel. It is a war crime, and those who continue to support that collective punishment and deny aid are complicit in this unfolding tragedy. Last week, Janez Lenarčič, head of humanitarian aid and crisis management at the European Commission, said that neither he nor any other UNRWA donor had been presented by Israel with any evidence of UNRWA involvement in the 7 October attacks. When the International Development Committee visited northern Egypt recently and spoke to the head of UNRWA, they also had no evidence, so my question is very simple: has the Minister been presented with any evidence to support his decision to pause the UK’s life-or-death funding to UNRWA?

The hon. Gentleman will have seen the evidence that has been put before the international community, and will know that it was sufficiently strong for the head of UNRWA to immediately act against some of his officials. On all these matters, tomorrow we will hear the interim report from Catherine Colonna, the former French Foreign Minister. We look forward to studying that report when we have a chance to read it, in the hope that it will take matters forward.

As the Minister will be aware, thousands across Israel have protested in opposition to the approach that Prime Minister Netanyahu is taking, including the hostage families—they know that the situation in Gaza will not help release their family members. People in Israel see what is happening to the Palestinians; they hear the words of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, who has said today that what is happening and Israel’s continuing restrictions on aid

“may amount to the use of starvation as a method of war”.

He is explicit about that and the concerns that it raises. I understand the Minister telling us that he does not want to make policy from the Dispatch Box, but will he tell us whether he has sought explicit legal advice on the question of whether Israel is now committing a war crime in its use of starvation—yes or no?

We are always in receipt of legal advice, and we act on it. When we receive it, we take the necessary steps, as the hon. Lady would expect.

In the first part of her question, the hon. Lady she set out a point that I was making earlier, more eloquently than I did: Israel is a pluralist democracy. There are different views, and I tweeted last weekend about the extraordinary, moving work being done by two people who had come together from opposite sides, whose families had suffered so grievously in the aftermath of 7 October. It is that pluralist democracy that gives us the chance that accountability will be properly followed in Israel, which—as I say—is the only pluralist democracy in that part of the world.

The IPC report published today shows that one in three children under two years old in the north of Gaza is now acutely malnourished. In February, that figure was one in six. This month, people of Muslim faith across the world will be observing Ramadan. The situation in Gaza is dire and urgent, so will the Minister call for an immediate ceasefire to ensure that no civilian goes hungry, malnour-ished or without medical support in Gaza?

The hon. Gentleman and I both share the desire that people should not go hungry in Gaza. That is why the Government, along with our allies, are working so hard to get more food in. We will continue to do everything we possibly can to make sure that the suffering that has been so eloquently set out by Members from all parts of the House is brought to an end as soon as possible.

There would be, I think, very serious doubt about the term “deliberate starvation”, so I am unable to give a yes or no answer to the hon. Lady’s question.

We all know that behind Hamas sits the malign power of Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The same is true of Hezbollah and the Houthis. With the Foreign Secretary having been in post for five months, can the Minister update the House on what progress has been made on proscribing the IRGC?

As the right hon. Lady knows, the issue of proscription is not one that we discuss on the Floor of the House, but the arguments for and against are kept under very close review by the Government and will continue to be kept under review.

To deal with the grave and worsening humanitarian crisis for the sake of the dying children and innocent civilians as Palestinians desperately try to survive and observe the holy month of Ramadan, it is imperative that both sides agree to an immediate ceasefire, which is what I recently voted for in Parliament. Aid in huge quantities is critical, and any attempts by the Israeli Government to block it must be condemned, so what are the UK Government doing to achieve an immediate ceasefire, get hostages released, and put pressure on the Israeli Government to allow unimpeded aid into Gaza?

The hon. Gentleman will have seen the words of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary about the absolute imperative of getting more aid and humanitarian supplies into Gaza. I have answered the point about an immediate ceasefire on a number of occasions over the past hour and a quarter. As the hon. Gentleman knows, in order to get a ceasefire, both sides in this terrible conflict need to agree to one, and there is absolutely no indication whatsoever that Hamas have any intention of a ceasefire—indeed, they have made absolutely clear that they wish to perpetrate once again the terrible events that took place on 7 October.

Hamas’s cold-blooded murder of at least 1,300 Israeli civilians on 7 October was truly abhorrent, but sadly, those horrific numbers are now dwarfed by the number of innocents of all faiths who have had their lives taken away from them in Gaza. I welcome the fact that the Government are moving on their position, but I believe they are going to have to move further and faster to prevent a catastrophe and further loss of innocent lives. The Minister has stated that the International Court of Justice ruling is binding; will he inform the House how that ruling can be enforced?

The hon. Gentleman’s point about the Government moving on their policy is not true. Basically, the Government have made it clear throughout that we will do everything we possibly can to achieve a pause, so that we can help get the hostages out and food and support into Gaza. We are continuing to do everything we can, night and day, to reach that conclusion.

The head of the UN, António Guterres, the head of security policy for the EU, Josep Borrell, and multiple accounts on the BBC have all indicated that famine is under way. The Minister has repeatedly said this afternoon that he is moving the dial, and that the Government are doing everything they can. My constituents would like to understand how he is doing absolutely everything he can and how he is showing leadership to ensure that all routes are opened by Israel and that we avoid further human catastrophe. Can he explain that in very practical terms?

I have set out for the House the work that we are doing, in respect of both the maritime corridor and supporting food and medical supplies delivered from the air. At the end of the day, though, those are inevitably going to be relatively small amounts, particularly from the air. The answer is to try to open up more access points into Gaza by road and to make sure that trucks flow more easily through those access points. The British Government have been doing everything we possibly can with our allies to ensure we take that agenda forward, and we will continue to do so. As I set out, a number of tonnes of aid arrived in Gaza on 13 March; a very large number of family tents, blankets, shelter kits, shelter fixing kits, sleeping mats and dignity kits went in. That is on top of the enormous amount of aid we have provided previously to UNRWA, and also to UNICEF, the Egyptian Red Crescent and to other NGOs, charities and medical organisations that are doing everything they can to try to alleviate the suffering in Gaza.

I am absolutely clear that the hostages must be released. I am also absolutely clear that the situation in Gaza has gone from dire to horrendous to cataclysmic, and my constituents do not understand why it is being allowed to continue. The majority leader in the US Senate has identified Netanyahu’s ultra right-wing Government as a barrier to peace, and the European Union foreign policy chief has said that Israel, one of the richest and most militarily powerful nations in the world, is “provoking famine”. So will the Minister say clearly that it is unacceptable for Israel to prevent aid from entering Gaza? Will he also say clearly what he is actually doing about it—what demands he is making of Israel, what consequences he is setting out to Israel for its actions—beyond wringing his hands?

I thank the hon. Member for her clarity on the issue of the hostages. She asks why all of this is being allowed to continue. I would point out to her, as I have consistently this afternoon, that the Government, along with our allies, are doing everything we possibly can to stop it continuing. She asks me about what else we can do to try to ensure that it does not continue. I would point her to the comments I made in my response to the shadow Foreign Secretary about all the different ways in which Britain, along with our allies, is seeking to alleviate the suffering taking place in Gaza.

Children in Gaza are dying at the fastest rate the world has ever seen, according to the IPC report. Instead of calling out Israel for its culpability, the Government still refuse to sign UN resolutions and they still sell arms to Israel. Their great wheeze is to try to find ways to bypass the Israeli blockade by delivering aid by air or by sea, which is clearly not going to get enough aid in. The Government are not going to admit how absurd their position is, but will the Minister answer this directly: have the Government received legal advice that Israel’s hindering aid getting into Gaza violates international law?

The Government keep our legal advice under review at all times. The current legal advice is that Israel has both the capacity and the will to abide by international humanitarian law, and if that position changes as a result of the advice of the Government lawyers, we will of course make that clear to the House.

We heard this morning how half the population in Gaza—and this is the first time in modern history that such a large population has been affected—is being subjected to famine. We also heard about the absolute imperative that we as a country, and also our allies, obey and abide by international law. Given that, and that the Minister has said that he and his Government are doing all they can, can I ask on behalf of everybody here—and, most importantly, on behalf of my constituents, because they do not understand—what exactly that is, and in apologising for being so blunt, why it seems to be so ineffective?

On the hon. Lady’s first point, everyone must abide by international humanitarian law, and Britain is doing everything it can to ensure that the rules of war and international humanitarian law are respected. She asks why our efforts are “so ineffective”. I would argue with her wording, but this is not a situation that Britain is tackling alone. All of us—the Americans, the European Union and those across the region—are doing our very best to ameliorate the suffering going on in Gaza. It is a collective effort, and Britain will not be found wanting in continuing to exert all the pressure we can, along with our allies, to ensure that this situation is brought to a conclusion.

The horrific famine in Gaza is made even worse by the fact that we know it is man-made. There is no agency better than UNRWA at delivering the small amount of aid that there is currently. I have listened to the Minister’s responses, and I have heard him tell the House that there is a report due out tomorrow and that funding from the UK Government remains in place until the end of April, but the end of April is now 43 days away. How will the Minister ensure that there is no break in funding for UNRWA? Will the Government urgently resume the funding so that UNRWA can deliver what little aid there is to the people who so desperately need it?

The hon. Lady is right that UNRWA has the logistics hubs, warehouses, vehicles and infrastructure that are essential for the delivery of aid in Gaza, and everyone understands that. She asks me whether I can guarantee that we will be able to resume funding at the end of April. I very much hope that will be the case. It will be very much dependent on the report tomorrow from the former French Foreign Minister, and indeed on that from the United Nations. We are doing everything we can to advance the case to make sure that we can resume funding when it is possible. I will update the House in due course on the results of those reports and on the judgment that the British Government make at that point.

This week, Prime Minister Netanyahu confirmed with his Cabinet that he plans to proceed with an operation in Rafah. We know this assault will end in the killing of many civilians, including children, and it will of course impede aid flowing into Rafah, which is the main place where aid now enters Gaza. The consequences will be catastrophic. How is the Minister using the ICJ and sanctions to stop further assaults in Gaza, not least in the light of the comments from the Prime Minister of Israel that

“no international pressure will stop Israel”?

On military operations in Rafah, the hon. Lady will have heard what the Prime Minister has said and the advice he has given to Prime Minister Netanyahu, and she will have heard what the Foreign Secretary has said very clearly indeed. She will have heard what the European Union has said, and indeed what President Biden has said. We very much hope that the Israeli Government and Prime Minister Netanyahu will heed these words, which come not from enemies of Israel, but from friends of Israel.

One million people face the imminent prospect of famine. Matthew Hollingworth, the country director of the United Nations World Food Programme has confirmed that the situation is reversible. In fact, in January, the Foreign Secretary—the Minister’s boss—confirmed that Israel has a legal obligation as the occupying power to provide food and water to the Gazans. Does the Minister agree that the Israeli Government must allow the full reopening of land bridges into Gaza, and that they should recommence the issuing of new visas for humanitarian workers? Finally, will he confirm whether his Government are in lockstep with Chuck Schumer and President Biden, or with Prime Minister Netanyahu?

We are working incredibly closely at all levels with the American Administration. The hon. Member asks about new visas. We have consistently urged the Israeli Government to grant the UN visas and, indeed, renew visas as swiftly as possible. He is quite right about the effects of famine being reversible, and that is why Britain is seeking to ensure that aid in much greater amounts gets in by road, sea and air in every way we possibly can.

Famine in Gaza is imminent and the death toll is rising. Like many, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, I cannot help but be concerned that continued restriction of aid, and therefore starvation, is being used by the Israeli Government. The holy month of Ramadan risks turning into a further tragedy for millions of Palestinians facing hunger and disease. Stern words just are not cutting it with Netanyahu, so what will it take for the Government to go further, and stop the export and sales of weapons to the Israeli Government? I respect the Minister for saying that he cannot make up policy on the hoof at the Dispatch Box, but when will he be able to stand at the Dispatch Box and give this House answers to the serious questions on arms sales, unimpeded aid, the restoration of UNRWA funding and potential sanctions?

On all those matters, I have been clear to the House about where the Government stand and their direction of travel. The underlying points the hon. Lady makes are the reason why we are arguing with such force and passion for a humanitarian pause in which we could get resources into Gaza and get the hostages out, and such a pause could lead to a sustainable ceasefire. That is what the Government will continue to do.

We urgently need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, a massive surge in aid, all hostages released, and a lasting peace with a two-state solution. I recently met with Medical Aid for Palestinians to discuss the desperate and unbearable humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Can the Minister explain the details of what the UK Government are doing to press for the necessary food and aid to get into Gaza and, critically, for it to be distributed there rapidly?

The hon. Gentleman is right in his final point about the logistical difficulties. We are working with all the resources we can to make sure that the aid can be delivered and is not siphoned off, pilfered or attacked by people who are very short of food and desperate to get it. He sets out the importance of a humanitarian pause, hostages being released, and a new political vision of the future for Palestine. Those three things are very much at the heart of what the British Government are seeking to achieve.

I thank the Minister for his answers to the questions, and his focus on finding a lasting ceasefire and peace, because that is what everyone in this House wants. Will he outline what aid and assistance have been provided to those in the Gaza area who can use arable land to attempt to grow food for community use? Can we in this place do anything more to provide self-sustaining aid?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The issue of arable land use inevitably takes a bit of a back seat at the moment because of the difficulty growing crops in Gaza, but in a future settlement, and in building towards a two-state solution, that would definitely be part of reconstruction. I very much accept the wisdom of what the hon. Gentleman says on these matters, and I am sure that the issue will be addressed when we reach that stage. I point out to him, as I have mentioned to the House before, that the progress made at Oslo was on the back of appalling events in the second intifada, and we must hope that, in spite of the desperate current events, we are able to lift people’s eyes to the political possibilities of a two-state solution in which both Palestine and Israel live in peace behind secure borders. Ensuring that that happens, when the moment comes, is the central aim of the British Government, and a great deal of work and planning is going into what such an initiative would look like.

Over 1 million people in northern Gaza are on the verge of famine, and aid groups are issuing dire warnings of catastrophic levels of hunger and man-made starvation. Just last week, the UN reported that humanitarian aid is being denied or postponed by Israeli authorities. We are not powerless—this Government can and should take action—so what else can the Government do to lobby the Israeli Government on allowing more aid to enter Gaza as a matter of urgency? Do Ministers agree that we need a ceasefire now, and that is the best way to get the release of hostages?

I set out to the House and for the hon. Lady the issues around a ceasefire, and why it is the view of the Government and many others that a pause for humanitarian purposes could lead to a sustainable ceasefire. That is the sensible way to proceed. She asks what more the British Government and others could be doing. I submit that Britain is doing everything it possibly can to achieve aims that are commonly held across this House: bringing an end to the situation in Gaza; getting the hostages home; and getting aid and support into Gaza. I reassure the hon. Lady and the House that we will continue to do everything we can, night and day, until we reach those objectives.