Andrew Mitchell has said this morning that Israel has a “moral and a practical responsibility” to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.
The Minister of State for Development told Times Radio that “we stand absolutely foursquare behind Israel’s right to defend itself”. However, he added: “But all of us want to see the fighting contained”.
Yesterday, prime minister Rishi Sunak announced the UK will increase international aid to Palestinians by a third with an additional £10m of support.
It comes as Israel is poised to launch a ground offensive on the Gaza Strip. It follows the attack from Hamas which killed at least 1,300 Israeli civilians earlier this month.
Israel has ordered Gaza’s population of 1.1 million to move to the south of the territory. It is an order that has faced criticism as many argue such a movement of so many people is practically impossible.
The UN estimates that over 1 million Palestinians have been displaced so far.
Prior to the recent escalation of hostilities, the UN estimated that nearly 60 per cent of people in Gaza already needed humanitarian assistance, including over 1.5 million people in need of food assistance and 1.6 million in need of health and nutrition assistance.
Giving a statement to the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, the prime minister announced an increase in international aid, along with a commitment to increasing the UK’s regional engagement in the Middle East to prevent further escalation of the conflict.
“I’m proud that we are a long standing and significant provider of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people”, he said.
“I can announce today that we are increasing our aid by a third, with an additional £10m of support. An acute humanitarian crisis is unfolding, to which we must respond.”
He added that Israel’s right to defend itself “must be done in line with international humanitarian law, but also recognising that they face a vicious enemy that embeds itself behind civilians”, he said.
“As a friend, we will continue to call on Israel to take every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians.”
Asked this morning on Sky News whether Israel had a right to “cross any border” and go so far as targeting Hamas leaders who are in Qatar, Mitchell said: “The Hamas leaders are guilty of the most heinous crime and the Israeli government will either hunt them down and bring them to justice or they will be killed during the course of the military action that takes place.”
Pivoting to Gaza itself, he said that any plan to allow civilians out of the Gaza Strip would “certainly” involve the Rafah Crossing on the Egyptian border, before adding that the UK was involved in discussions.
There is no concrete plan as it stands, however.