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UK Government lawyers believe Israel is breaking the law, says senior MP

31 Mar 2024 4 minute read
Palestinians look for survivors after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip. Photo Anas-Mohammed

The UK Government has received legal advice that Israel is breaking international humanitarian law, but has refused to confirm it publicly, a senior Tory MP claimed.

Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns said she was convinced the Government had concluded that Israel was not demonstrating a commitment to international humanitarian law and “transparency at this point is paramount”.

The Foreign Office said advice on Israel’s compliance with international law was kept under review, but it would remain confidential.

Israel has come under intense international scrutiny over its treatment of Palestinians during the war against Hamas following the October 7 atrocities.

Leaked recording

A leaked recording of Ms Kearns disclosed that she believes the Government has received advice that Israel is flouting the law.

Answering questions at an “evening drinks reception” hosted by the West Hampstead and Fortune Green Conservatives in London on March 13, she said: “The Foreign Office has received official legal advice that Israel has broken international humanitarian law but the Government has not announced it.

“They have not said it, they haven’t stopped arms exports.

“They have done a few very small sanctions on Israeli settlers – and everyone internationally is agreed that settlers are illegal, that they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing, and the ways in which they have continued and the money that’s been put in.”

Arms export licences cannot be granted if there is a clear risk the weapons could be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

On Saturday she stood by the comments, saying: “I remain convinced the Government has completed its updated assessment on whether Israel is demonstrating a commitment to international humanitarian law, and that it has concluded that Israel is not demonstrating this commitment, which is the legal determination it has to make.

“Transparency at this point is paramount, not least to uphold the international rules-based order.”

Under review

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We keep advice on Israel’s adherence to international humanitarian law under review and ministers act in accordance with that advice, for example when considering export licences.

“The content of the Government’s advice is confidential.”

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has repeatedly said that Israel, as the “occupying power” in Gaza, has responsibilities, including ensuring aid is supplied to civilians.

He has stressed that responsibility has “consequences”, including when the UK assesses whether Israel is compliant with international humanitarian law.

When he appeared in front of Ms Kearns’ committee in January, Lord Cameron was repeatedly questioned about the legal advice he has received.

“I cannot recall every single bit of paper that has been put in front of me,” he told Ms Kearns.

“I look at everything. Of course, there are a lot of things that have happened where you think surely that was something that shouldn’t have happened.”

Meanwhile, a cross-party group of more than 50 MPs and peers called on the UK to end its pause in funding the UN’s humanitarian relief agency in Palestine.

The UK was among a group of countries which halted funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) amid allegations from Israel that some staff members were involved in the October 7 atrocities carried out by Hamas.

In a letter to Lord Cameron, the MPs and peers called for clarity about why the UK decided to suspend funding and why interim reports from investigations into UNRWA had not been enough to resume the supply of money.

The UK Government has said no funding is due from Britain to UNRWA until the end of April and it is awaiting the findings of both a review of the agency by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna and a UN investigation into the October 7 claims.

The letter, from MP Brendan O’Hara, SNP foreign affairs spokesman, and signed by colleagues from all main parties, said funding should be restored “without delay”.

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Y Cymro
Y Cymro
11 days ago

What we are witnessing is the biggest injustice since the Holocaust where a Palestinian people are systematically being slaughtered and starved by Israel on an industrial scale as the world watches on in horror powerless to act because America uses its veto effectively neutering the UN meaning a minority overrules the majority is not only undemocratic but morally reprehensible.

Last edited 11 days ago by Y Cymro
Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
11 days ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

If the UK Government has only just noticed that the IDF campaign in Gaza is breaking international law then they need to get some better advisors. Whilst I do not usually subscribe to ‘conspiracy theories’ it does rather look as if this Government will not do anything unless it is approved by the US. That is not the sort of ‘special relationship’ the UK should have with a foreign, possibly hostile, country. I thought that all the pain of Brexit was supposed to give us lots of Sovereignty!

Iago Traferth
Iago Traferth
11 days ago
Reply to  Peter Cuthbert

That’s why we need to leave NATO and stop getting involved in conflicts in other parts of the globe.

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