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Gaza: UK Aid

Volume 743: debated on Monday 8 January 2024

Happy new year, Mr Speaker.

In support of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the first maritime delivery of UK aid arrived in Egypt at new year. RFA Lyme Bay and four RAF aircraft have positioned over 150 tonnes of humanitarian aid into Egypt. Distribution of the aid has been impeded by challenges around its movement into Gaza. FCDO colleagues continue to work with the UN, Israel and Egypt to allow greater volumes of aid to be delivered.

Blwyddyn newydd heddychlon i bawb.—[Translation: A peaceful new year to everyone.]

On 29 December an aid convoy belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency was hit by Israeli gunfire, despite the vehicles being identifiable with the agency’s markings and after the IDF had designated the route from Gaza City in earlier co-ordination. Given Israel’s targeting of aid convoys, can the Minister say whether the Ministry of Defence maintains a tracker database of alleged breaches or violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza, as it has previously said it does for Yemen?

I will have to write to the hon. Lady on her exact point about the tracker. I am not aware of one, but that does not necessarily mean there is not one. I will write to her.

Although humanitarian aid is a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office lead, we continue to work with partners and allies to advocate for other crossings to be opened and to increase the volume of aid delivered into Gaza.

I welcome the news that RFA Lyme Bay has delivered aid to Egypt, so it is very disappointing to know that aid is still being held up. Given Israel’s activity in Gaza, the only way we can make sure that humanitarian aid gets to the people who need it is by trying to secure another cessation in hostilities. What role is the MOD playing in trying to make that happen?

The MOD has put its shoulder to the wheel in support of the Government’s wider diplomatic effort but, obviously, the negotiation of a pause such as the one that the hon. Lady rightly says is necessary to deliver aid in greater volumes is a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office lead. Mr Speaker, I believe you have had the foresight to grant an urgent question in which such questions may well be answered shortly by a Minister from that Department.

We are witnessing horrific scenes in Gaza. The humanitarian catastrophe there needs greater focus from countries like our own and others around the world, to bring it to an end and to get that aid in. Given that the Prime Minister said in a statement before Prorogation that we would use British armed forces capability to make those shipments of aid in greater numbers, why are we not getting those greater numbers of aid in? What is he doing to get Israel to open the crossings and to get that aid in, in the quantities that are needed?

British armed forces are being used to deliver aid into Gaza, and they have done so to good effect. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has struck up an excellent operational relationship with his Israeli counterpart, which has allowed for the opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing. Again, I think that is a reflection of the success of the UK’s engagement with the Israeli Government on this matter.

The volumes of aid are limited not by the availability of military capacity—there is plenty of that—but by the availability of crossings and the ability to distribute the aid, on which Foreign Office colleagues are working closely with the UN, Israel, Egypt and others to increase.

Happy new year, Mr Speaker.

France and Jordan successfully delivered medical aid to Gaza by air last week. Has the Minister considered the viability of the UK air-dropping food and medical supplies to Gaza in the same way?

I think air dropping is a very imprecise way of doing business. Our preference is to seek maritime routes.

Is a feasibility study being undertaken to see whether aid could be delivered directly into Gaza from ship to shore, should the future security situation allow it?

The Defence Secretary has led internationally on exactly such an initiative, working with our friends in the Cypriot Ministry of Defence. There are ideas to do exactly that, but they obviously need to be agreed with all parties before they can happen.

I have urgently pressed the Minister and the Department to secure Red sea vessels, as well as facilitating aid into Gaza. People in Bolton are demanding assurances on both maritime safety and humanitarian support for Gaza. What assurances can he provide to people in Bolton?

Clearly, the delivery of aid into Gaza is principally a maritime and aviation effort in the eastern Mediterranean, but my hon. Friend is correct to say that the security of shipping in the Red sea also has an impact. That is why Royal Navy warships are part of the Red sea taskforce that is seeking to protect those sea lanes.