The images we have witnessed in Gaza and Israel are deeply upsetting. Like others, I am devastated by the loss of civilian life.
There is no doubt that Hamas terrorists would have known there would be a military response from Israel when they undertook their appalling terror attacks on October 7th. Hamas has by design embedded itself into the urban area of Gaza and uses civilian areas including schools and hospitals to hide weapons and rocket launch sites, using Palestinian civilians as human shields. Hamas benefit from prolonging and provoking conflict with Israel and continue to hold Israeli civilians as hostages, making a continued military response inevitable.
Hamas is a genocidal terror group committed to the destruction of Israel, and the Jewish people, in accordance with its founding charter. The world was shocked by Hamas committing the worst massacre against Jews since the Holocaust. Its violent rejection of peace stands in stark contrast to the ground-breaking Abraham Accords which have seen Arab states across the Middle East embracing ties with Israel. Hamas has to be removed from Gaza for a chance to secure a long-term peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and for the Palestinians to achieve their legitimate goal of statehood.
It is a sad reality that Hamas has consistently prioritised conflict against Israel over the wellbeing of Gaza’s citizens since violently seizing power in 2007. Gaza has received billions of Dollars in international aid money since then – including from generous UK taxpayers – which could have been used to transform the region. Much of this has instead been misappropriated for Hamas’s military activities – including thousands of rockets and military tunnels running hundreds of miles long.
Despite concerns over Hamas’ misuse of humanitarian measures, Israel has agreed to localised pauses, allowing for the entry of aid into different northern Gaza neighbourhoods each day. Pauses will allow civilians, who will be notified three hours ahead of time, to reach the IDF humanitarian corridor established last Sunday for their evacuation from north to south. Israel has also agreed to open a second north-to-south humanitarian corridor along the coast, according to White House – but cannot reasonably be expected to agree to a long-term ceasefire so long as at least 245 hostages, including 30 children, are being detained in underground tunnels across Gaza – denied access to humanitarian aid organisations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Israel must continue to keep international law central to its military campaign against the Hamas terror group. Israel has been encouraging the civilian population of northern Gaza to temporarily relocate southwards to avoid a dangerous conflict zone. This is a core part of Israel’s efforts to minimise civilian casualties and for the last five days, Israel has operated a humanitarian corridor enabling tens of thousands of residents of Gaza City to leave under the protection of Israeli forces. This corridor has been attacked by Hamas, and the group has repeatedly attempted to blockade civilian evacuations as part of its deplorable plan to retain a human shield for its military activities.
It is an unavoidable tragedy that civilians have been killed and injured as a result of Hamas’s cynical strategy of using human shields. In the last few days, Hamas’s rocket launchers and fighters have been found within schools, universities, mosques, scout centres, water desalination plants, and even hospitals. Hamas’ military leadership is based within military tunnels beneath Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. These are flagrant war crimes and deliberately risk the well-being of their civilians.
The UK has been working around the clock to support the humanitarian efforts, including by successfully lobbying the Egyptian Government for the Rafah border crossing to be opened for aid and to repatriate foreign nationals trapped in Gaza. In a challenging political and diplomatic situation, it is crucial that the UK uses its ability to influence the humanitarian situation to support those caught in the crossfire.
It is official Government policy to support a two state solution and the UK has increased its aid to the legitimate Palestinian authority by millions of pounds in the past month. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have met with the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people to discuss further aid and a way forwards through this crisis. The new Foreign Secretary will be intensifying these efforts.
Calls for ceasefire are understandable but the difficult reality is that Hamas has always exploited ceasefires to rearm and expand its terror network within Gaza’s civilian population. Each time, this has led to greater bloodshed and suffering for both Palestinians and Israelis. The UK Government is rightly concerned that a ceasefire now would allow Hamas to once again regroup and the violent cycle will continue.
Israel have said they cannot countenance a ceasefire until the hostages are released and Hamas have been explicit that they would not adhere to any ceasefire in any event. It is unclear at this stage how any announcements by MPs in the UK would change these basic facts.
The release of hostages held by Hamas is an essential first step in deescalating the conflict. To demand Israel refrain from attacking Hamas targets is to demand it refuse to protect its own civilians, who are under missile attack every single day and have been since 7th October. Since that date, thousands of rockets have been fired from Gaza (and Lebanon) at Israeli civilian targets – this is a two sided exchange of military force, initiated by Hamas. Should this be happening in the United Kingdom, I am sure you would understand the public demand for security from our Government.
Freezing the conflict at a status quo is not a sustainable way to deliver peace and would inevitably just lead to another round of hostilities.