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David Cameron urges Israeli minister to increase aid to Gaza and raises concerns over Rafah offensive

Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron said he had a “tough but necessary” conversation with Israeli minister Benny Gantz about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The former prime minister said ensuring the availability of aid in Gaza would be a factor when the UK assesses whether Israel is acting in line with international law.

Mr Gantz, a former general, is a domestic political rival of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but was drafted in to the war cabinet formed in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attacks.

Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron has spoken to Israeli minister Benny Gantz (PA Wire)
Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron has spoken to Israeli minister Benny Gantz (PA Wire)

Following their meeting, Lord Cameron said: “Palestinians are facing a devastating and growing humanitarian crisis.

“In my meeting with Israeli minister Benny Gantz today, we discussed efforts to secure a humanitarian pause to get the hostages safely home and lifesaving supplies into Gaza.

“I once again pressed Israel to increase the flow of aid. We are still not seeing improvements on the ground. This must change.”

Israeli minister Benny Gantz is a former general and and a domestic political rival of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Israeli minister Benny Gantz is a former general and and a domestic political rival of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Lord Cameron set out the UK’s call for an immediate humanitarian pause in the fighting, increased capacity for aid distribution within Gaza and greater access for supplies through both land and maritime routes.

He also called for a wider variety of aid items to be allowed into Gaza, including shelters and items critical to repair the infrastructure destroyed during the Israeli military campaign.

In a warning about the UK’s position on the Gaza conflict, Lord Cameron said: “The UK supports Israel’s right to self defence. But as the occupying power in Gaza, Israel has a legal responsibility to ensure aid is available for civilians.

“That responsibility has consequences, including when we as the UK assess whether Israel is compliant with international humanitarian law.”

He stressed that the UK was “deeply concerned” about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah, the city in southern Gaza close to the border with Egypt which is providing shelter to more than a million people displaced by the violence.

Ahead of the meeting with Mr Gantz, Lord Cameron said that a “whole series of warnings” need to be given to Israel over the amount of aid reaching Gaza, telling peers that “patience needs to run very thin.”

Despite pressing for humanitarian assistance to get through, Lord Cameron said during a debate on foreign affairs in the House of Lords the amount of aid that reached the territory in February was just half that of the previous month. The foreign secretary said that as the “occupying power” Israel was “responsible” and that this had consequences under international humanitarian law.

The conflict in Gaza was triggered by a bloody attack inside Israel on 7 October during which Hamas killed around 1,200 people and took another 250 hostage.

In response, Israel launched a combined aerial and ground assault, plus a blockade, that health officials in the Hamas-run territory say has killed more than 30,000 people.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict since October, Palestinian health officials say (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict since October, Palestinian health officials say (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The latest total from Gaza’s Health Ministry said that there had been 86 deaths in the past 24 hours and witnesses said the Israeli bombardments continued in parts of Khan Younis, the southern city of Rafah and areas in central Gaza.

Lord Cameron said in parliament: “We are facing a situation of dreadful suffering in Gaza. There can be no doubt about that.

“I spoke some weeks ago about the danger of this tipping into famine and the danger of illness tipping into disease and we are now at that point. People are dying of hunger. People are dying of otherwise preventable disease.

“We have been pushing for this aid to get in. We have had a whole set of things we have asked the Israelis to do but I have to report to the House that the amount of aid that got in in February was about half of what got in in January.”

He added: “So patience needs to run very thin and a whole series of warnings need to be given.”

Pressure has been building for a ceasefire in the conflict, with there been hope from mediators Qatar and Egypt that a 40-day truce could have been agreed in time for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins early next week. But talks seem to be at an impasse.

The increased pressure on Israel from Lord Cameron and the UK came in the wake of a visit by Mr Gantz to Washington, where Vice President Kamala Harris laid out a blunt message that Israel has to do more to ease the “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza.

She also said that “there must be an immediate ceasefire for at least the next six weeks”, which would “get the [remaining Israeli] hostages out”. That call was backed by President Joe Biden on Tuesday, when he said: “We need a ceasefire”.

Also on Tuesday, the US revised language in a draft UN Security Council resolution to back “an immediate ceasefire of roughly six weeks in Gaza together with the release of all hostages”, according to the text seen by Reuters, reflecting the language from Ms Harris.

On Wednesday, a Cypriot government spokesman has said European Union Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen will visit Cyprus to inspect installations at the port of Larnaca, from where it is hoped ships loaded with humanitarian aid will soon depart for Gaza.

Constantinos Letymbiotis told reporters that Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides will join Ms von der Leyen on her inspection of the port on Friday.

Mr Letymbiotis said interest over the Cypriot initiative to ship a steady stream of aid in large quantities to the Palestinian enclave some 240 miles away has gained traction, both within the EU and among other countries.

EU spokesman Eric Mamer said the bloc is hopeful that the corridor’s opening “will take place very soon”.

EU Commission spokesman Balazs Ujvari said the maritime corridor could augment the bloc’s efforts to deliver more aid to Palestinians in Gaza.

Another possibility is to organise air drops – which the US has recently started – but this would be a last resort and cannot replace ground access to the enclave “which remains absolutely essential”.

Mr Ujvari said the EU has so far carried out around 40 flights to deliver aid to Gaza, primarily through Egypt.

Associated Press contributed to this report