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Labour Calls For Suspense Of Israel Arms Sales If A "Clear Risk" Of International Law Breach

Gaza City, Palestinian Territories. 02nd Apr, 2024. Palestinians inspect the damage at al-Shifa Hospital complex, following a two-week military operation by the Israeli army in Gaza City. (alamy)

4 min read

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy has called on foreign secretary David Cameron to publish the government's legal advice on Israel's actions in Gaza and suspend UK arms sales to Israel if there is a "clear risk" it is violating international law in Gaza.

In a statement on Wednesday following the killing of British aid workers by the Israeli military on Monday night, Lammy accused Cameron of "going silent" on what legal advice Government has received on Israel's attacks in Gaza. 

Lammy also said Labour's "deepest sympathies go out to the families of the three heroic Brits who put their lives on the line to get Palestinian civilians the aid they desperately need", adding "Israel must face serious consequences" for their killings.

On Monday night, the Israeli military killed seven people working for charity World Central Kitchen in Gaza in airstrikes, three of whom were British nationals. The charity has provided millions of meals to civilians in Gaza, which charities warn is currently at risk of a famine with much of its key infrastructure destroyed, including schools and hospitals.

"It's totally wrong that the Foreign Secretary has gone silent on the question of whether or not Israel is complying with international humanitarian law, after saying he'd get new advice nearly a month ago," Lammy said.

"There are very serious accusations that Israel has breached international law, which must be taken into account. The law is clear. British arms licences cannot be granted if there is a clear risk that the items might be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

"Labour's message to the government is equally clear. Publish the legal advice now. If it says there is a clear risk that UK arms might be used in a serious breach of international humanitarian law, it's time to suspend the sale of those arms. If David Cameron has received this advice, he must act on it.”

Over the weekend, The Observer reported that senior Conservative MP and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns, told a Tory fundraising event on 13 March that the UK government has already received advice from its lawyers which states Israel has breached international humanitarian law in Gaza. 

If the UK government believes Israel is breaking international law in Gaza, under UK law it would be required to stop weapons exports to Israel or risk being seen as facilitating war crimes in Gaza.  

Labour's intervention follows growing pressure on the government from across the political spectrum to halt the sales of arms to Israel amid growing concern it is violating international law in Gaza. 

More than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Hamas attacks on Israel on 7 October, with many thousands more injured. More than 1,200 people were killed in southern Israel in the 7 October terrorist attack, with Hamas taking hundreds more Israeli hostages into Gaza. 

On Wednesday, the Scottish National Party (SNP) wrote to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Labour leader Keir Starmer, and House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle demanding a recall of parliament from its Easter recess to debate the UK's response to Israeli violence, as well as calling for the end of the sale of UK arms to Israel. 

"With three UK citizens among those killed in the Israeli strike on World Central Kitchen (WCK) aid workers, it is essential that the UK Parliament is recalled immediately," the SNP's Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said. 

"This situation demands that the Prime Minister comes to parliament without further delay to outline the UK government's response to the killing of UK citizens by Israel, to enable MPs to scrutinise the UK government's response, and so that Parliament can finally debate and vote on ending arms sales to Israel."

The Liberal Democrats have also called for the suspension of UK arms to Israel. For years Liberal Democrats have called for far tougher control of arms exports, so that British arms are not being used in conflicts such as the devastating one in Gaza," the party's leader Ed Davey said in a statement on Wednesday. "The UK Government must take swift action to suspend arms exports to Israel."

In an interview with The Sun on Wednesday, Sunak said he had spoken with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday night following the killing of the British aid workers and told him the "situation is increasingly intolerable" in Gaza. 

"I spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu last night and I was very clear with him that the situation is increasingly intolerable and what we urgently need to see is a thorough, transparent investigation into what happened," he said.

"But also a dramatic increase in the amount of aid getting into Gaza, removing the barriers. Also, closer work with aid agencies so that things like this don't happen again."

Israeli ambassador Tzipi Hotovely was also summoned to the foreign office on Tuesday afternoon following the deaths of the British aid workers, where development minister Andrew Mitchell “requested a quick and transparent investigation, shared with the international community, and full accountability”.

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