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Pressure Grows To Halt Arms To Israel After British Aid Workers Killed In Gaza

Three British aid workers were killed after Israeli forces bombed a World Central Kitchen convoy in Gaza. (Alamy)

5 min read

Pressure is growing on the UK government to halt the sale of arms to Israel after three British aid workers were killed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, amid concerns the country could be breaking international law.

The World Food Kitchen charity, which has provided millions of meals for Gazans since the war between Israel and Hamas began on 7 October, confirmed on Tuesday that three British nationals were among seven people killed in airstrikes conducted by the Israeli military on Monday. 

Responding to the deaths, prime minister Rishi Sunak has said "Israel must explain how this tragic incident happened and take immediate steps to protect aid workers" in Gaza - with foreign secretary David Cameron stating Israel must "make major changes to ensure safety of aid workers on the ground". 

Elsewhere, Israeli ambassador Tzipi Hotovely was also summoned to a meeting at the foreign office, with development minister Andrew Mitchell in a statement afterwards stating he told Hotovely he "unequivocally" condemned the killings and "requested a quick and transparent investigation, shared with the international community, and full accountability". 

Labour leader Keir Starmer in a statement said the deaths were "horrifying", calling for "a full investigation", and an "immediate ceasefire" in Gaza. 

32,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since 7 October, with much of region's key infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, destroyed. More than 100 Israeli hostages are also currently being held in Gaza by Hamas, after more than 1,200 Israelis were killed in Hamas' October terror attacks that triggered the escalation of violence.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who is the UK's only MP of Palestinian heritage, told PoliticsHome that "it shouldn't take British aid workers to die for the foreign secretary to do more" and called for the suspension of arms sales to Israel. 

"If that's what it takes to get him to be calling for that immediate bilateral ceasefire that we so desperately need, in the strongest possible terms, then fine," she said. 

"However, a lot of questions remain. First of all, in particular, the killing of aid workers contravenes the interim measures that were put down by the International Court of Justice.

"But finally, and really crucially, there is a chance that arms that Britain has supplied have been contributing to the deaths in Gaza. If they can't stop the killing, at the very least they need to say that they are now going to be stopping all arms trade for the foreseeable future with Israel until it comes back into line with international law."

On Sunday, The Observer reported that senior Tory MP and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Alicia Kearns told a Tory fundraising event on 13 March that the UK government has received advice from its lawyers which states Israel has breached international humanitarian law in Gaza, but has not made it public. 

If Israel is breaking international law in Gaza, the UK under its own laws would be required to halt weapons exports to Israel or risk being seen as facilitating war crimes in a country it was exporting arms to. 

Moran also said she believed there was "growing consensus" for the suspending of the sale of arms to Israel among MPs. Last week, 134 parliamentarians from across all major political parties signed a letter calling for the UK to "immediately suspend export licenses for arms transfers to Israel" amid fears Israel is breaking international law in Gaza. 

"My understanding is even Margaret Thatcher suspended arm sales to Israel during one of the flare ups when she was prime minister, so there are many precedents for this in the past, and I don't fully understand what is holding Rishi Sunak back," Moran told PoliticsHome. 

"The level of carnage, but in particular, the killing of humanitarian aid workers and now these British aid workers, just underlines the importance of us not being in any way, complicit with the killing of innocent civilians, and brave men and women on the ground who are just there to do a job to preserve life."

Labour MP Afzal Khan, who resigned from the Labour frontbench in November in order to vote for a ceasefire in Gaza, also told PoliticsHome he believed the UK should "stop all arms sales" to Israel. 

"Killing aid workers is abhorent, and unconscionable during the greatest humanitarian crisis in a generation," said Khan.

"For aid to reach the people who need it most, aid workers must be protected. This can only be done with a ceasefire. Its beyond time the British government increases pressure on the Israeli government, including stopping all arms sales."

Labour MP and former shadow minister Alex Sobel told PoliticsHome "transparency and upholding international law is absolutely vital", and that whether the UK continues to provide arms to Israel should be based on whether it is following international law. 

"World Central Kitchen does amazing and valiant work feeding people in the World’s most dangerous places and today is a huge tragedy which needn’t have happened," said Sobel. 

"Its been clear for sometime that Israel’s military rules of engagement have meant that thousands of civilians including many aid workers have been killed.

"Now our own aid workers have paid the ultimate price we need an independent international investigation to establish the facts not just in this instance but all operations where civilians been killed.

"Transparency and upholding international law is absolutely vital and if the law has been broken then arms sales must be suspended and wider sanctions applied."

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