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Humanitarian Situation in Gaza

Volume 748: debated on Wednesday 17 April 2024

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

The deputy Foreign Secretary is regrettably unable to respond to this question in person, as he is at the World Bank spring meetings in Washington. I will respond on his behalf. Earlier this month, we passed a grim milestone: six months since Hamas’s horrific terrorist attack on Israel. The UK Government have been working with partners across the region to secure the release of hostages, including British nationals. We want to see the release of all hostages.

Palestinian civilians have spent these months suffering, with conditions worsening by the day. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire. The Iran attack and our support for Israel have not changed our focus on ensuring that Israel meets its commitments to enable at least 500 aid trucks a day to enter Gaza; to open Ashdod port for aid deliveries; to expand the Jordan land corridor; to open a crossing into northern Gaza; and to extend hours at Kerem Shalom and Nitzana. We are pushing as hard as we can to get aid to Palestinian civilians. As this House knows, we have been urging Israel at the highest levels to take immediate action on the bottlenecks holding up humanitarian relief. We have recently seen a small increase in the number of aid trucks being allowed to enter Gaza, but not all of them are full, and numbers are not yet close to reaching the levels required given the severity of the humanitarian situation that we now see.

We will continue to press Israel to take immediate action to open Ashdod fully for humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, we recently announced new support for a life-saving aid corridor by sea to Gaza, including the deployment of a Royal Navy ship, which has now arrived in the Mediterranean and is ready to integrate with the US pier, and provide a command and control platform.

We are also committing up to £9.7 million for aid deliveries through that corridor, as well as providing logistical expertise and equipment. In recent weeks, the Royal Air Force has conducted seven airdrops along the Gazan coast, delivering more than 58 tonnes of food. The UK-Med field hospital, funded by the UK, is up and running in Gaza and has already treated more than 8,000 people, a high proportion of them children. We need to see the operating environment in Gaza improve, so that more aid gets in and can be distributed quickly, safely and effectively. Israel must ensure that the UN has the access, equipment and staff that it needs to do that.

We were horrified by the attack on the World Central Kitchen convoy, which killed seven aid workers, including three very dedicated British nationals. Israel must do more to protect aid workers, including through guaranteed deconfliction for aid convoys and other humanitarian work to ensure that they can operate safely. The findings of Israel’s investigation must be published in full, and followed up with a wholly independent review, to ensure the utmost transparency and accountability.

Six months on, however much we might wish otherwise, the fighting has not yet come to an end. We cannot and will not stand by. The Foreign Secretary is in the region this week, pressing for further action.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting me this urgent question.

Conditions in Gaza are desperate and intolerable. Famine is taking hold, sewage is pooling in the streets and the water has still not been switched back on. Almost nothing is reaching northern Gaza, where people are already dying of starvation. The healthcare system has been utterly devastated. Yesterday, leading non-governmental organisations told me about specific blocks and restrictions that they face from Israeli authorities in doing their life-saving work. Aid is sat waiting, unable to reach those in need, with some rotting where it stood. Items are removed from trucks without explanation, and doctors are reusing single-use medical equipment taken from patients who have died. Today, a UN report says that 10,000 women have been killed. That is a description of hell on earth. It cannot go on.

For months, we have demanded that aid flow without restrictions—unfettered and unimpeded—at a level that meets humanitarian need. The UN Security Council has demanded it; the International Court of Justice has ordered it. However, despite the pledges that have been made, UN figures show that more aid went in on some days in January than went in yesterday, so I have three questions for the Government.

First, can the Minster be clear that Israel is not meeting its commitments, and about what pressure the Government are applying to change that? Secondly, why have the Government not yet announced that they are restoring future funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency? It is shocking that, in the face of famine, the UK is one of the last major donors yet to resume funding, without explanation. Thirdly, why are the Government seemingly softening their message to Netanyahu on Rafah? Let us be clear: 1.5 million Palestinians sheltering there have nowhere safe to go.

There can be no humanitarian operation to meet the scale of need without an immediate ceasefire now. Both sides must agree to comply. We note that it was Hamas and their leader, Sinwar, who rejected the latest ceasefire deal. Both sides must urgently agree to end this war now to prevent the further loss of innocent life, to free the hostages still cruelly held by Hamas, and to allow a surge of aid into Gaza.

Important points have been made. It is important to welcome Israel’s commitments to increase the amount of aid getting into Gaza, and the limited steps that have been made, but—and this is an important but—more must be done, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to realise those commitments, and we continue to urge that that happens. As I said, the Foreign Secretary is in the region, and we are working hard on those issues.

The right hon. Gentleman also talked about UNRWA. The final report from Catherine Colonna is due at the end of April. We will review that and make a decision on future funding. We recognise the important role that UNRWA plays. On the wider, more strategic point about our approach, it is clear that we want to see a humanitarian pause before then pushing for the conditions for a sustainable ceasefire.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the position of the hostages is absolutely key, and is he able to report any more progress? He has explained that Hamas have not agreed to the latest proposal, but does he agree that pressure needs to be put on them by their interlocutors who are working with them to do something solid on the hostage problem, and to do it speedily?

As I have said, the Government continue to call for an immediate humanitarian pause to allow for the release of hostages. While we cannot provide a running commentary on negotiations, which are highly sensitive and ongoing, the UK is using all our diplomatic channels to support international negotiation efforts facilitated by Egypt, Qatar and the US.

Under-standably, perhaps, the world’s attention has been on the shocking Iranian missile attack at the weekend, but we cannot and must not forget about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and the plight of millions of innocent civilians facing a man-made famine and living with the constant threat of attack. Neither can we forget the immensely brave humanitarian aid workers, particularly the seven World Central Kitchen employees, whose status as humanitarians appears to have offered them little or no protection from the Israel Defence Forces. Despite the promises made, the United Nations has reported that this week, more than 40% of what it tried to take into Gaza was rejected. Those of us who have been to the border and seen the efforts of the Egyptian Red Crescent, and its warehouse full of rejected medical equipment, have a pretty good idea of what those items were. This is an area that has no single operational hospital.

The elephant in the room, though, is arms export licences. For how much longer is the UK going to send humanitarian aid to Gaza while simultaneously licensing weapons sales to Israel? Would not the best form of humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza be to stop supplying Israel with the weapons that will kill them?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight what happened in Iran recently, and of course we must not forget the humanitarian situation on the ground in Gaza. As I highlighted in my opening remarks, we are working very hard to make sure that the aid he talked about can come through. He also talked about exports; the latest assessment carried out by the Foreign Secretary leaves our position on export licenses unchanged. That is consistent with the advice Ministers have received. We will continue to keep that position under review, but the hon. Gentleman should remember his opening point about Iran and what happened recently. I will leave it there on export controls.

Humanitarian aid getting into the Gaza strip is very important. Has my hon. Friend noticed that in the last couple of days, the White House national security spokesman said in an interview with NBC that the aid getting into Gaza has increased by a large amount in the past few days? More than 2,000 trucks have been able to get in, including about 100 trucks in the past 24 hours alone. Three bakeries have reopened in northern Gaza in the past week, producing some 3 million pita breads daily, and food aid convoys are now continuing via the newly opened northern crossing. Of course, there is always more to do—as I have said, that is very important—but does my hon. Friend accept that there have been significant improvements, considering that this is still an active war zone?

I am grateful for the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend. As I said in my response to the Opposition spokesman—sorry, could he remind me of his question again?

We have seen limited improvement. My right hon. and learned Friend said that it has been significant, and it has, but from a low base, and as I have set out, our aspirations are clearly a lot higher. There are a number of key areas in which we want to see further improvements, and we are working closely with Israel on that.

Airdrops, promises of harbours and promises of money to come are not even touching the sides of the problem, given its scale. People are starving to death. At the beginning of March, my Committee published a report calling on the UK Government to press for more than 500 trucks of humanitarian aid a day to be allowed into Gaza; for all the crossings to open; for the Israeli military to co-operate better with aid agencies; and for deconfliction, so that humanitarian workers can live, and also safely carry out their vital work. Despite the Foreign Secretary’s optimism about greater humanitarian flows, the average is just over 1,100 trucks a week. Why are this Government not doing more to persuade Israel to meet its responsibilities under international law and facilitate aid to the people of Gaza? How many more people have to die?

I understand the hon. Member’s concerns, particularly given her position as Chair of the International Development Committee, but I have highlighted already that we are pressing incredibly hard on Israel to make further progress, and there has been limited progress. The Foreign Secretary is in the region, and he continues to press this case, as does my the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), who is doing important work in this area as well.

I am sorry to question the Minister again on the same theme, but he will be starting to appreciate the frustration in the House. Over the last six months, we have heard the Government beg, plead with and press Israel, and have telephone calls, meetings and conversations with it. We even had the RAF in the sky, rightly, to defend Israel from Iran. Yet it occurs to many of us that the Israeli Government care little for what we say, to the extent that Medical Aid for Palestinians reports that a famine in Gaza over the next few weeks is all but inevitable. When will we realise that saying things is making no difference, and that we have to act, not least to take steps to enforce the judgment of the International Court of Justice? When will we actually do something concrete to save lives?

As I have said, we are pressing incredibly hard to make sure that we see further progress in this vital area. I have highlighted that one of the key things we are doing is committing £9.7 million for aid deliveries through the life-saving aid corridor to Gaza through the sea. That is a material step—it is action that is being taken—but clearly we will continue to put pressure on the Israelis. They have made commitments, and we want them to stand up and realise, or allow agencies to realise, those commitments.

Crossings are still not open, trucks are going in half empty, and 41% of the UN’s requests to send aid into northern Gaza are being refused by the Israeli Government. That is the reality on the ground. The Colonna report comes out this Saturday, on 20 April, not at the end of the month. When will the Government come to this House to tell us when they will reinstate funding to UNRWA, which is the only aid organisation with the infrastructure on the ground to deliver aid at scale?

As I have said, we will review that report. When we receive it, we will make our final decision, and we will come to Parliament to explain that decision. As I have also highlighted—and, more importantly, as the Development Minister has highlighted—we recognise the vital role that UNRWA plays.

The Foreign Secretary was very proud to announce that the United Kingdom had set up a contact group for the middle east, which has members from Europe, the middle east and the United States. There is a key link to the humanitarian situation in Palestine and Gaza, in that all the group’s members, and the European Commission, have decided to fund UNRWA. The contact group aims to find a solution in the middle east. Why is it taking us so long to make a decision, when our European counterparts have made theirs? I also ask the Minister to ask the Foreign Secretary—I have raised this with him and the Prime Minister—to set up an international donors conference for Palestine, as we did in the case of the Friends of Syria. We need to move forward urgently, and show our leadership on this matter, as the situation is getting critical.

As I have said, and I will say it again, we will wait for the final Colonna report before we make a decision on UNRWA. This situation was particularly concerning, so we need that report in order to make a decision. My hon. Friend will remember that we trebled the amount of aid we provide to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Now our task is to make sure that we can do that, and find ways to get that aid in.

Yesterday, Oxford doctors Nick Maynard and Deborah Harrington briefed parliamentarians very movingly on their experiences of treating people in Gaza. They impressed on us how important it was that they were kept safe, and how many of their colleagues had died. I am sure that the Minister and the whole House will thank them for their tireless work, as well as other aid workers, and anyone who gives over their safety to save others. They also pointed out that the malnutrition that we see is making patients more vulnerable to infectious diseases. A report released by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine projected that if the situation continues as it is, there will be 74,000 excess deaths—that is, that number will die, over and beyond the number who have died by bombs, if something is not done.[Official Report, 18 April 2024; Vol. 748, c. 6WC.] (Correction) Does the Minister agree that we need not only an immediate bilateral ceasefire, but rebuilding of the medical situation in Gaza now, not later, because that is what is stopping people getting the life-saving treatment that they desperately need?

I join the hon. Member in praising the vital work of aid workers in the most challenging of circumstances, and I highlight the courage and bravery that they demonstrate. Obviously, we want to create conditions in which they can operate more safely. She calls for a ceasefire. We call for a pause that can lead to a sustainable ceasefire. Of course, as we move to such a situation, some of the things she talked about, particularly the extra medical support, can be provided.

Access to the north of Gaza for those providing humanitarian aid is still dire, and 28 children are reported to have died of malnutrition and dehydration. UNRWA continues to be disproportionately affected by access restrictions, and it was last able to deliver food to northern Gaza at the end of January. As we have heard, other countries are restoring funding to UNRWA, including the United States, so why are we taking so long?

We want to see the report, and then we will make our final decision. We recognise the important role of UNRWA, and we also recognise the importance of opening a crossing in northern Gaza, as my hon. Friend highlighted in her opening point. We are pressing the Israelis to stand up to their commitments.

Yesterday, I attended a meeting of British doctors who have recently been in Gaza, and they described the systematic targeting of healthcare in Gaza. Let us be clear: that is a war crime. A UN special rapporteur recently warned, at a meeting that MPs organised, that Government Ministers and officials involved in arms exports to Israel should be absolutely clear that they could be individually criminally liable for aiding and abetting war crimes in Gaza. Will the Minister say on the record in this House, and ahead of next week’s High Court hearing, that the legal advice that the Government have received confirms that there is no such risk, and that arms sales are in line with international law?

After our latest assessment of our position on export licences, it remains unchanged, and is consistent with the advice that Ministers have received. We will continue to keep the position under review.

As has been referenced, our close allies in the United States have commended Israel for stepping up the amount of aid getting into Gaza, but once aid trucks are on the Gazan side of the border, Hamas have sought to hijack the trucks, and to cynically use the distribution of aid as a political weapon, as has been recognised by this Government. What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the level of control that Hamas exercises over UNRWA and the distribution of aid?

My hon. Friend makes important points, which set out why we are waiting for the final report, as I have said repeatedly, before making a final decision. The underlying situation relating to UNRWA was very challenging, and we need to make sure that aid is used for the appropriate purposes.

The Government rightly condemn Iran for risking destabilisation in the region, and for demonstrating that it is intent on sowing chaos in its own backyard, yet we have had six months of Israel killing civilians, doctors and aid workers; destroying almost all civilian infrastructure in Gaza; cutting off water, fuel and electricity; and severely limiting the supply of aid. That is all in clear violation of international law, has destabilised the region, and has sown chaos in Israel’s own backyard, so will the Minister condemn the action of Israel, too?

We recognise that Israel has the right to defend itself and, as I have said, we are calling for an immediate pause in order to get aid in and the hostages out. We also recognise the destabilising action of Iran and its acolytes, and we must ensure that we push back and seek to de-escalate the whole situation.

By now there could have been a humanitarian pause and aid could be flowing into Gaza to help those poor individuals threatened with famine and war, but of course, just as the last two humanitarian pauses were breached by Hamas, Hamas refused to accept a ceasefire on the terms that have been agreed. Such a ceasefire would mean that the hostages could be coming back now, and the people of Gaza could be receiving aid. Does the Minister agree that Hamas are clearly the obstacle to peace in the middle east?

Clearly Hamas are an obstacle to peace. Their actions provoked terrible atrocities in Israel back in October, which we find abhorrent. Now we want to ensure that we find a way of tackling the terrible humanitarian situation, as I have described, and tackling further destabilising activity by Iran.

In reply to my written question on 15 April, the Minister said:

“We want UNRWA to give detailed undertakings about changes in personnel, policy and precedents”.

Has the Minister, or any of his colleagues, actively sought those undertakings and changes from UNRWA by contacting it directly? If so, in what state was that request last made?

The broader issue about UNRWA is that we are waiting for the final report and then we can make decisions. I will raise the hon. Gentleman’s detailed points with the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), and get back to him.

Will the Minister confirm that it is inconceivable that the money we would earmark for UNRWA will not be given this year, and will he either set out what alternative agencies he thinks could do achieve the same outcomes on the ground, or confirm that we will have to give UNRWA the money anyway, in which case we might as well get on with it?

I have already said that UNRWA carries out important work and has a vital role, but the concerns about its activities mean that we must have this report. We then want to look at our approach and our funding in relation to that.

Oxfam has reported that 1.1 million people are projected to be facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity in Gaza, and children are now starving. Samantha Power, administrator for USAID, told the US Congress last week that northern Gaza is now experiencing famine. Do the Government share that assessment, and how will aid get there?

We continue to be very concerned about the humanitarian challenges in Gaza and, as I have highlighted, we are pressing hard and taking steps ourselves. We have increased the amount of aid that we are committing to the region, and we are focusing laser-like in seeking that Israel should step up to the commitments it has made. It has already made limited progress; we need to see more.

Israel’s right to self-defence comes with clear responsibility. Gaza has become a conflict hellhole, and the delivery of more humanitarian aid from the international community, including the UN, is non-discretionary. Will the Minister please confirm that everything possible is being done with the Israeli Government to ensure that non-combatants are being supported and are not being inadvertently targeted or hit?

We have highlighted that with the Israeli Government, and I confirm that we are pushing incredibly heard. Not only are we increasing the amount of aid that we give to the region, but we want to ensure that it gets through. We have already deployed a number of airdrops, which have helped, but a lot more needs to be done.

As has been said, more than 33,000 people have been killed, 70% of whom are women and children. The International Court of Justice has warned of genocide, and more than a million people have been left starving while almost 2 million are displaced from their homes. Even as the Foreign Office’s own legal advice, which it continually refuses to make public, is purported to declare that the Israeli military are breaking international law, and as the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, the reality remains that nothing has changed: bombs are still falling, children are still starving, and civilians are still dying. Let me ask the Minister a simple question: does international humanitarian law mean anything anymore, when the UK and the international community continue to refuse to draw a line?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s passion and concern about the area, and we continue to have grave concerns about humanitarian access. However, that is not sufficient to undermine our judgment that Israel is committed to complying with IHL in general.

Israel’s military is reported to be using Lavender, an artificial intelligence system, to help choose its bombing targets in Gaza. That is machine decision making over human decision making, and it arguably sacrifices accuracy in favour of speed. The Lavender system identifies targets, which are reviewed for only 20 seconds before authorisation of a strike. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues in the Ministry of Defence about the use of AI in combat, the concerns over error rates, and the humanitarian impact on the ground?

Too many civilians have been killed, and we want Israel to take greater care to limit its operations to military targets and avoid harming civilians and destroying homes. That is the message we give when we engage with the Israeli Government.

The situation in Gaza is having its impact on the west bank. Tragically, this week a 14-year-old Israeli child was found dead, and that set off a process of settlers rampaging across the west bank. We now know that four Palestinians have been killed and others brutally attacked, and the evidence is that IDF soldiers stood to one side and allowed that to happen. At a meeting with Israeli colleagues this morning we heard that the Israeli Government are now arresting legal and peace observers in the west bank. Will the Government make it clear to the Israeli Government that observers should be allowed to operate within the west bank and ensure that peace is maintained? May we have a detailed report on the sanctions that the Government are applying to Israeli settlements and settlers?

I do not know the detail of some of the earlier points the right hon. Gentleman raised, but I will welcome receiving that. My understanding and memory is that we put sanctions on two individuals. We keep this issue under constant review, because those actions and what happens in the settlements is important, given the implications that has for the west bank.

The escalation of recent days is deeply worrying, with two nuclear-armed countries exchanging ballistics, and neither with any reputation for care of civilian lives and both with agendas of their own. That escalation has occupied the headlines, but the people of Gaza continue to suffer unrelenting military attacks and starvation. The rules-based order and international law have suffered lasting damage, including by the targeting of aid workers and medics. The UK’s influence with an out-of-control Netanyahu Government has yielded little, but one of the few legal tools available is the suspension of arms export licences. When will the Government use that?

As I said in a previous answer, our assessment on export licences remains unchanged. We have one of the most robust export systems in the world, enshrined in law through the Export Control Act 2022 and implemented through our strategic export licensing criteria. It is important that the hon. Lady recalls and notes not just the humanitarian situation in Gaza, but also what is happening through Iran’s destabilising activities.

Humanitarian agencies have concluded that we have passed the point of being able to avert famine in Gaza. Whatever we do now, we will be too late for those people who will have starved to death by the time aid arrives, and that is a stain on the international community. Will the Minister update the House on what specific steps the Government have taken to bring about the full implementation of resolution 2728, which was passed by the UN Security Council over three weeks ago? Pleading with, pressuring and pressing the Israeli Government is clearly not a strategy that is working, so why do the UK Government not recognise that consequences and concrete actions can start with the stopping of arms sales to Israel?

We are urging, we are pleading and we are doing everything that we can to make our case. We are also trebling the amount of aid to £100 million. As I have said, we are also taking action to have this lifesaving aid corridor by sea to Gaza. Those are important actions that we are taking forward.

Having seen the drone attacks on Israel at the weekend, it is disappointing to watch the Government and the US Administration basically telling the Israelis to roll over and accept this aggression by Iran. It was, however, encouraging to see an alliance of air forces assist the Israelis to protect their people. I wonder why there is little condemnation of this aggression against Israel and little continued acknowledgement that had 7 October never happened, none of this would be happening. What are the Government doing to ensure that both Gazans and Israelis are free from Hamas and Iranian aggression respectively and can live normal lives? As we say in the UK, Israel has the right to defend itself.

I agree and the Government agree that Israel has the right to defend itself. As part of our approach to enabling a sustainable ceasefire to be put in place, Hamas have to be put clearly in their place. They must not have the influence they have at the moment, and their ability to fire rockets into Israel needs to be completely diminished to enable that sustainable ceasefire.

The Minister will know that his words are not cutting through. Hamas were wrong to reject the ceasefire, but what Israel does next is not inevitable. Yet the Israeli Minister for Defence on Monday evening said that Israel was waiting for aid to be delivered to Rafah and for civilians to leave, and then it would begin the military operation. He will know that there is nowhere for these people to go and there is no food elsewhere. It is an impossible choice for people. A few pitta breads will not cut it for millions of people at risk of starvation and at risk of harm from a military operation in Rafah. What can the UK do if Israel proceeds with its threat to enter Rafah?

As the hon. Member knows, I respect her enormously, and we have worked together on a number of issues. On her vitally important point, we want to urge restraint about this proposed military operation by the Israelis. We are also calling for restraint in response to what has happened with Iran, although notably the RAF and others were there to provide support to defend Israel from that attack. The Foreign Secretary is in Israel and the region this week to tackle these very issues and to address the points I have made.

On Monday, in response to my question about restoring UNRWA funding, the Prime Minister said that, along with allies, he was “reviewing the interim findings”. In subsequent responses to other Members, he said he was waiting for a final report, which is due towards the end of the month, on 20 April. Can we have a Government statement on Monday in which the Government set out a clear pathway back to restoring funding? The UK is the only major donor aside from the United States that has not restored its funding. Time is running out and lives are being lost.

I recognise the importance of the points that the hon. Lady makes. All I will say is what I have said previously: we are waiting for the report and then we will update Parliament on our decision. We need to review this report in detail.

Seventeen repetitions of “We are waiting for the report” will become the new definition of complacency. The more I listen to those on both Front Benches describing the bloody, putrid sea of misery that is Gaza, the more I am amazed that both sides continue to support the supply of British arms and military components to the country that is doing all this. No one could understand that. The Minister said how hard they were trying—personally, I believe him; he seems a sincere chap—but why is it not working? If the Government are trying so hard while scrambling their jets to defend Israel and giving arms to Israel, why will Israel not listen?

I say with respect that the questions I have been asked are entirely appropriate and understandable given the circumstances. I have responded as best I can from the Government’s perspective. The hon. Gentleman knows from his extensive experience that the situation on the ground is hugely complex. We are working night and day, and our officials in the FCDO are working flat out. We are providing the support we can to Israel and to help tackle the destabilisation. I understand the passion with which he asks his questions, but he should also understand that these are incredibly complex situations. We are endeavouring to do everything we can to make our case with Israel, but it is also having to think about the implications of what is happening and act after a terrible tragic attack by Hamas and the responses by Iran.

I am concerned to hear the allegations made by several organisations that the trucks going in are half-full or less, which makes the amount of aid getting into Gaza by truck a difficult statistic to use. What is the Minister doing to make sure that tonnage of aid is getting to the right places? Clearly, the Israeli authorities seem to be not able to deliver on their duties under international law to get aid to the right places. What more can he do to put pressure on the Israeli authorities to do what is legally binding and right to do?

The hon. Lady makes an important point that we need to think not just about trucks, but tonnage. I will speak to the Development Minister about this particular issue and make sure that we have extra focus on it. We need the trucks, but we need the tonnage, as well. It is vital.

It is good to finally hear those on the Labour Front Bench seemingly find their voice on this issue, after tens of thousands of deaths and months of shameful prevarication, although they are still willing to sell arms to Israel. On the UK Government’s policy on arms sales, the criteria for halting arms sales does not require a legal confirmation that a breach of international humanitarian law has occurred, but only that it might have occurred. Does the Minister not consider that the ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court of war crimes and crimes against humanity and the consideration by the International Court of Justice of potential genocide are indications that breaches of international law might have occurred? In any event, why are we so keen to sell arms to someone we have been pressing so hard to cease operations?

We continue to have grave concerns about the humanitarian situation on the ground, but those are not sufficient to undermine our judgment that Israel is committed to complying with international humanitarian law in general. We have already talked at length about the export licences and our controls around that. We recognise Israel has the right to defend itself.

The Belgian Foreign Minister stated that Israel was engaging in “tactics of starvation”. Last month, the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Ireland stated:

“The use of starvation as a weapon of war is a blatant violation of international humanitarian law.”

This month, Belgium’s Minister of Development and Co-operation stated that Israel’s use of hunger as a weapon of war was

“a flagrant violation of international law”.

The Israeli Defence Minister is on record as saying:

“I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly”.

When will this Government wake up to the reality that innocent Palestinians are dying and take action to stop them dying from hunger and starvation?

We are working hard to get the aid in, as I have highlighted. That is critical. We are also calling out the Israeli Government, recognising that too many civilians have been killed. We want to see Israel taking greater care to limit its operations to military targets and to avoid harming civilians and destroying homes, as he has indicated.

The world is astounded by the fact that we are having to rely on sea corridors and air drops for the delivery of aid when we know that the only way we will prevent starvation in the hell that is Gaza is through mass truck supply and UNRWA-assisted delivery. Will the Minister explain the Government’s assessment of whether the current supply of aid through trucks, air and sea is sufficient to prevent imminent famine?

We have seen limited improvements—I have highlighted that—but we want to see Israel stand up to its commitment to increase the total number of aid trucks to at least 500 a day and increase the capacity through the Jordan land corridor to 100 trucks a day. More work is clearly required, and it is important to highlight that this is not just for is; it is an international priority where we are working with our partners.

Given the horrific scale of killing and the starvation of Palestinians, and especially children, we need an immediate ceasefire and the release of hostages, and the Netanyahu Government must allow aid into Gaza unimpeded, rather than continually blocking it. There also needs to be a process of investigation, accountability and justice, whether through the ICC, the ICJ or the UN commission of inquiry, given the serious allegations of war crimes, but the UK Conservative Government do not presently find any of those routes acceptable. Will the Minister please highlight which of those accountability mechanisms they find acceptable?

We respect the role and independence of the ICJ, but, to the points that the hon. Member raised, our view is that Israel’s actions in Gaza cannot be described as genocide. We remain clear that formal determination of genocide should be based on the final judgment by a competent court.

Will the Minister explain the rationale behind advocating a humanitarian pause in the bombing to allow medical aid, food, water and basic supplies into Gaza and then—presumably—permitting the killing to start up again? That has puzzled me for some time. Bombing civilians is a crime against humanity. Is it not time for humanity to be reasserted and for the ceasefire, which so many have called for, to start?

The Government’s position is that we need a pause—we need to get aid in and hostages out—and then work for the conditions for a lasting peace. We must also recognise Hamas’s role in getting to this point. In those conditions, we need to remove Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel and ensure that they are no longer in charge in Gaza.

May I say a thank you to my constituents who last weekend organised an Eid gathering for Palestinians in the north? When I was there, I met Gaza health and aid workers and heard lots of stories. One of them was about Nuzha Awad, a lady who had given birth to triplets. Her babies should have weighed about 6 lb to 8 lb each, but they weighed just 2 lb each and have not even developed their thighs because of malnutrition. According to confirmed reports, we know that 27 children have died so far of malnutrition. We send in RAF jets to support Israel when it is attacked, yet Israel does not heed the British Government’s warnings to get humanitarian aid in. So people are rightly asking: why are our Government so weak on saving the lives of children?

Some of the points that the hon. Member made are tragic and heart-rending to hear. I reiterate that we want to see change and are pushing for change, and we are taking action to ensure that more aid is available. We just need to get the conditions to enable aid to come forward and through to the people who need it on the ground in Gaza.

When the Israeli Government are not listening to the Minister about aid getting in, why are the Government still considering selling arms to Israel? When we are pleading with the Israeli Government so much, the Government cannot accept that situation and continue to sell those arms.

We are working hard with the Israeli Government on humanitarian issues, as I have highlighted. Our export controls are in place, and our approach remains unchanged. We must recognise that Israel has the right to defend itself.

The Minister says that the Government recognise the importance of opening a northern crossing, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) said earlier, almost no aid is entering northern Gaza. The situation everywhere is most desperate. Exactly what pressure are the Government applying to ensure that routes to northern Gaza become operational as soon as possible and remain open?

That is part of our ongoing diplomatic efforts with Israel and our like-minded partners who are committed to providing aid and getting that in. One of the key things that Israel is committed to is that northern route. The hon. Member makes that important point, and that is one of the elements that we continue to urge Israel to stand up and commit to.

F-35s are reducing Gaza to dust. During Pinochet’s brutal rule in Chile, the workers of Rolls-Royce in East Kilbride refused to manufacture parts for the Chilean air force and were hailed as heroes. Why would the UK Government not follow that humanitarian example and stop exporting the parts for F-35s?

It is because we have got one of the most robust arms export regimes in the world, and, as I have said, we need to recognise Israel’s right to defend itself. The hon. Member probably noticed what happened over the weekend with the attacks from Iran. That situation is not just important for what happens in Israel—vital though that is for those involved in Gaza—but has ripple effects that are destabilising the region, and that has global implications as well.

We were told a month ago that 1.1 million people faced catastrophic levels of food insecurity in Gaza, and that we were reduced to air drops. The situation in northern Gaza is horrific, and it is a consequence of political choices. The World Food Programme has said that the area has been largely cut off from aid, and has recorded the highest levels of catastrophic hunger in the world. Twenty-eight innocent children are reported to have died of malnutrition and dehydration because of political choices. What meaningful, strong actions will the Government take to ensure that international law is upheld and all Palestinians have a right to food?

I have already highlighted the steps that we are taking as well as the commitments that Israel has made. We are asking Israel to step up to its commitments. It has made limited progress, and we want to see much further progress to help those people on the ground.

According to UNICEF, one child in Gaza is killed or injured on average every 10 minutes. Yesterday, Israeli occupying forces struck a playground in the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, massacring at least 11 people and injuring many more. The deputy Foreign Secretary has boasted about how proud his Government are to be supplying Israel with arms, even while it commits such crimes against humanity and has been found by the ICJ to be plausibly committing genocide against the Palestinian people. Will the Minister tell us categorically whether arms exported from Britain were used in the strike on the Maghazi refugee camp, and, for that matter, whether the three British aid workers who were killed at the beginning of the month were killed by weapons manufactured in Britain?

As I have already highlighted, we have strong export controls. To the important point that the hon. Member made, we have asked Israel for an assessment and an independent investigation to take place as to what happened in that situation.

We continue to call for the immediate release of all hostages, for an immediate ceasefire, for unhindered humanitarian aid, for adherence to international law and accountability for any breaches, and for immediate international efforts for a two-state solution. On aid and international law, between 6 and 12 April, 41% of UN co-ordinated missions to northern Gaza, where famine is under way and children are dying by the minute, were denied. The Israeli authorities’ obligation to facilitate humanitarian aid is a matter of law. It is not just about access; it must also be able to get to where it is needed.

I appreciate the difficulties in which the Minister has found himself today but, again, why are the Government so ineffective in getting support? We have had months upon months of saying that things will happen, and they never do. Why have they been so ineffective and what will they do to make sure that Israel adheres to our requests?

I have highlighted that there has been limited progress, but we have made some progress in our arguments with Israel, along with international partners. Now we are pressing for those other areas to be dealt with, including northern access, which is a vital priority. We are pushing hard. The Foreign Secretary is once again in the region this week to address these issues.

Last week, Samantha Power of the US Agency for International Development told Congress that they it was witnessing famine in northern Gaza. Let us be honest—to the wider global population, it appears that Israel is using starvation as a weapon of war, whether through the supply into the country or by intimidating the workers who should be distributing it. Does the Minister share the US assessment of the situation, and will he commit to supporting and restoring the funding of UNRWA?

We remain concerned about the implications of targeting civilians. Too many have been killed, and we want Israel to take greater care to limit its operations to military targets. As I have said repeatedly, we await the Colonna report about the UNRWA situation, and we will examine our response.

Some 500 health-care workers have been killed in Gaza in the past six months. That is more than the total number of healthcare workers killed in all conflicts around the world in the previous two years. Does the Minister agree with Professor Nick Maynard, the British surgeon recently returned from Gaza, that healthcare workers are being deliberately targeted? If so, why is the UK still supplying arms to Israel?

I have addressed the point about arms. The hon. Gentleman’s point about protecting aid workers is important. We believe that the Israelis need to do much more to protect them. That includes the guaranteed deconfliction of aid convoys and other humanitarian workers, to ensure that they can operate safely.

In answer to questions, I have heard the Minister repeatedly talk about pressure on Israel, encouraging Israel and hope that Israel will respond. When will he stand at the Dispatch Box and accept that for all the Government’s urging and encouraging, the situation is getting worse? In concrete terms, what will the Government do now to get aid through, to make sure that Israel lives up to the promises that it makes and does not deliver on? I ask the Minister not to give me an answer about the strength of our arms sales licence regime. How can it be morally right to provide arms to Israel that are being used in the killing of women and children and worsening the humanitarian crisis?

As I have highlighted, we have trebled the amount of aid that we are putting in to support those people. We recognise that Israel is an occupying power, so we have to urge and work with the Israelis to enable these things to happen. The important thing is that we are seeing limited progress. As I said, now we are pushing and pressing to see further progress in achieving the aims and the commitments that Israel has already set out.

I hope the Minister remembers Hind Rajab, the six-year-old Palestinian girl who was trapped in a car with nothing but a mobile phone and her own cries for help while the paramedics were struggling to get to her. They and Hind were killed that day. An IDF investigation concluded that its forces were not present within firing range of the vehicle. A subsequent Washington Post investigation disagreed. I raise that case not only to remember Hind but because whenever the Israel Defence Force’s actions result in increased civilian suffering or reduced humanitarian aid—as in the killing of aid workers—the Government’s response is to call on Israel to investigate itself. Is that really the only way to ensure accountability and reduce suffering?

On the specific point about aid workers, I highlighted that we also want an independent review. It is important that they are protected, and we need to understand the situation on the ground. The hon. Lady highlights, importantly, that we are also urging Israel to take greater care in limiting its operations and the impact they have on civilians.

Following the Iranian attacks over the weekend, we are one step away from the precipice of a regional war. The comments of the Foreign Secretary this afternoon following his meetings with the Israeli Government—that he believes Israel is minded to act—should worry us all. The British Government rightly emphasise the need for de-escalation, but do they recognise that de-escalation must begin in Gaza?

We need to de-escalate the whole situation and do everything we can to use our influence in that task. We have highlighted already what we are asking and urging Israel to do from a humanitarian perspective in terms of their stated aims to carry out further military action in Rafah. There is the wider area as well. We are working with our partners in the region and around the world to find ways to deescalate the situation more widely. It is multifaceted and really complicated, but we are finding ways to bring that influence to bear, because we do not want this to escalate any further.

Every Member of this House knows that it was that great Conservative statesman who said that all it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to stand by and do nothing. Today the Minister, who we know is a good man, must have been embarrassed. He stood there, wrung his hands and told us that our Prime Minister has pleaded with the Israeli Prime Minister. When did the party of Edmund Burke become the party of complicity and appeasement?

I am not sure that the question deserves an answer. We have already highlighted cross-party that these situations are complex. We are working incredibly hard with all our partners—I think that is recognised by the Opposition Front-Bench team. It is challenging, but please let us not lower the tone in that way.

Currently, 1.1 million civilians are at risk of starvation due to the Israeli aid blockade. That is clearly a breach of humanitarian law and the interim ICJ ruling. The UK Government tacitly recognise the breaches, because they are trying to bypass the Israeli blockade using the Royal Navy. The UK Government’s incoherent position is that rather than call out Israel, they are urging and pleading Israel to change tack, while still selling arms to Israel and withholding funding to UNRWA. The interim Colonna report confirms UNRWA’s neutrality. All other major donors apart from the US have restored funding. What is making the UK Government wait for the final Colonna report before restoring funding? Are they sitting on intelligence that is somehow not available to all the other partners?

Between 6 and 12 April, 41% of UN co-ordinated aid missions to northern Gaza were impeded or denied access. The Israeli authorities’ obligation to facilitate humanitarian support is about not just getting trucks in but getting aid to where it is needed. That is a matter of international humanitarian law. Does the Minister really think that less than 60% of aid getting in is an acceptable rate? Does that really show the Government’s diplomatic efforts to be successful?

We are seeing some success enabling and encouraging Israel to allow more trucks in. As I said, it is limited progress but it is progress. Clearly, a lot more needs to be done. We are working with our partners to make sure we can do that.

Testimony from an Israeli intelligence officer reveals that IDF soldiers were authorised to kill 20 uninvolved civilians for a single Hamas operative. Israel is frequently in breach of the principle of proportionality and, frankly, UK diplomacy is not working. What will it take for the Government to admit finally that Israel is breaching international humanitarian law and to cease arms sales?

We have talked about this a number of times in this urgent question in our responses. [Interruption.] And I am just about to answer that particular question; thanks for the encouragement. We have grave concerns about the humanitarian access, but that is not sufficient to undermine our judgment that Israel is committed to complying with IHL in general.

Last week, Samantha Power, the administrator of USAID, told Congress that northern Gaza is now experiencing famine and that almost no aid is entering northern Gaza. Does the Minister agree that the situation is intolerable and unacceptable? What exactly are the Government doing to make sure that it changes urgently?

The situation is incredibly challenging. As I have said already in answer to an earlier question, one of the commitments Israel has made is about access in the north. We continue to urge Israel to live up its commitments, so that aid can come in from the north, as well as there being more aid more generally, to help those on the ground in Gaza.

Jim Henderson from Cornwall served in the Royal Marines for seven years before working in Gaza. The aid convoy he was supporting was travelling from the north. It was following the right procedures and remained on the correct route. It is understandable that the death of Jim and his fellow Brits should have seized our attention here at home and led to an investigation by the IDF, but the UN Secretary-General said a fortnight ago that the death of all 196 aid workers killed in Gaza in the past six months should be subject to independent investigations. Does the Minister agree?

I have already highlighted how important it is that we urge Israel to do much more to protect aid workers. We want to make sure there is a guaranteed deconfliction of aid convoys, and we need to do other humanitarian work to help. I pay tribute to the individuals who have done heroic work, including those the hon. Gentleman highlighted. I think he will recognise that the individual he referred to is a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), who, as I understand it, has been working closely with the family and I am grateful to her for that.

The Minister has said on a number of occasions today how complex the humanitarian situation is on the ground. UNRWA is the aid agency with most of the logistical and organisational network to deliver in that situation. On Monday, the Prime Minister was asked a number of times about the interim report that he says the Government have received. Will the Minister commit to publishing it in full? Will the discussions he says he is having with allies on what should happen next be published, so we know what is holding back the UK and why it is the last country not to fund UNRWA?

The thing holding us back from signing off our approach is seeing the report. That is what we need to wait for. It is coming very, very soon and we will be responding to it in full.

The director-general of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, has talked about the devastating destruction of Gaza’s hospitals, and the dead bodies still being removed from the ruins of Al-Shifa Hospital. Will the United Kingdom fund the WHO and other charities on the ground in Gaza to rebuild the shattered hospitals that have been destroyed under Israeli bombardment? Will he deliver the ceasefire necessary to allow that construction to happen, because it cannot happen while there are no construction materials going into Gaza?

The hon. Lady makes a characteristically thoughtful and important point about reconstruction. Our immediate approach now is about the pause and getting aid in. That has to be the top priority right now. Then, as we look forward, let us get the conditions in place to have a sustainable ceasefire. As part of that, we can work through how that reconstruction will take place.

As I said to the Prime Minister in his statement on Monday, the mother of James Kirby, one of the other aid workers who lost his life while trying to deliver aid through World Central Kitchen, is my constituent. The family want answers, and I would appreciate it if the Minister passed on that message while the Foreign Secretary is in the region. Given the attacks on healthcare workers mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), as well as the attacks on people trying to deliver food aid, will he explain what the pleas for guaranteed deconfliction actually mean, because they do not seem to be working?

I also pay tribute, as the hon. Lady has, to James Kirby. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. The work we are doing to raise that point with Israel is important. We want to find ways to ensure that we deconflict aid convoys. I think Israel recognises that there are challenges there. It will be carrying out its own report, and a further independent review will be needed to help find ways to ensure that deconfliction is meaningful and strong.

May I first thank the Minister very much for his response to all the questions? It is clear that he has compassion and that he wants to answer in the best way, so we thank him for that. Last week I had occasion to be in Israel and visited some of the kibbutzim where innocent Jewish people were murdered, and the Nova music festival where over 1,000 young people were murdered, and met some of the families. All that was a result of Hamas terrorism on the Israeli people. Hamas is the reason we have a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. What discussions have taken place about opening wider channels to allow medical aid in and ill people out and medical interventions free from harassment and intervention from Hamas?

I thank the hon. Member, whom I regard as a very good friend, for his comments. He is right to highlight the role of Hamas and what they have done to get to this situation. We are working collectively to figure out how we can best address the situations. Medical supplies are key and we will be providing them. We are providing support on shelter and have been helping with air drops. Across the House, it is clear that more needs to be done. There is frustration and I am grateful to all colleagues across the House for, on most occasions, their measured comments. I understand their concerns. I am also pleased that Members have not resorted to cheap party politics. These are incredibly difficult challenges and I am very grateful for the questions and the challenge that has been provided. It is constructive, and we will use it to help make the case to those on the ground who need to hear it.

Points of order come after urgent questions and statements, unless they are directly related to the UQ we have just had.

I apologise for not giving you forward notice of my point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it relates to something that just occurred in the urgent question. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) referred to the recent death of one of my constituents without notifying me. I raise this point of order because this is an incredibly sensitive time and I have connected with the family through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office consular service, which is the right and proper thing to do. I am nervous that my constituent’s name has been taken to score points across the Chamber, when it is completely inappropriate to do so. I wonder if you could advise me on how we can avoid that in future.

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. I noted the exchanges to which she refers. It did occur to me, as the exchanges were taking place, that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton should have thought twice before mentioning the name—in very, very, very sensitive, sad and indeed tragic circumstances—of a constituent of another Member of Parliament. I wonder if he would like to apologise.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. First, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) for her work on behalf of her constituent. It is the duty of everybody in this Chamber to work as closely as we can on sensitive casework. Clearly, she has done that. I should add that I used my point about an individual who has, unfortunately, suffered a terrible, awful circumstance to draw a parallel with the 196 aid workers who have been killed in this awful, terrible war.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for responding to the point of order from the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory). We must be very careful, because this is as sensitive as a subject possibly can be. There are bereaved people who will be watching our proceedings; my heart goes out to them, and I am sure that the whole House feels the same. However, I understand the hon. Lady’s point, and I think the hon. Gentleman has said that he will be more careful in future.