Yesterday, the House of Commons heard a statement from William Hague on Gaza. Today, I met a party of pupils from Cressex School whose concern was obvious and who were keen to discuss the situation. Later in the week, I expect to meet a group of local people to discuss it further. Many local people have contacted me by email.
It is a matter of grave concern that violence has once again escalated. I see this evening that “Israel has resumed its air strikes on Hamas-controlled Gaza, after Israel’s brief truce was met with continuing rocket fire.”
I deplore the violence committed by both sides. There should be an immediate ceasefire. Steps should be taken forthwith to restart the peace process with the goal of a two-state solution.
This is a view shared by the Government and the now former Foreign Secretary William Hague, who said:
The House is aware that despite intense efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry, talks between Israelis and the Palestinians broke down at the end of April and are currently paused. Since then, there have been several horrific incidents, including the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers and the burning alive of a Palestinian teenager. We utterly condemn these barbaric crimes. There can never be any justification for the deliberate murder of innocent civilians.
These rising tensions have been followed by sustained barrages of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. Between 14 June and 7 July, 270 rockets were fired by militants into Israel, to which Israel responded with air strikes. Rockets are fired indiscriminately against the civilian population, including against major Israeli cities. Israel then launched Operation Protective Edge on 7 July. Israeli defence forces have struck over 1,470 targets in Gaza, and over 970 more rockets have been fired towards Israel. Two hundred and forty Israelis have been injured. In Gaza, as of today, at least 173 Palestinians have been killed and 1,230 injured. The UN estimates that 80% of those killed have been civilians, of whom a third are children.
We have acted swiftly to ensure the safe departure of British nationals wanting to leave Gaza. Late last night, we successfully assisted the departure of 27 British nationals and their Palestinian dependants from Gaza, through Israel to Jordan for onward travel. I am grateful to the UN, to Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff from London, Gaza, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Amman, and to the Israeli and Jordanian authorities for their work to ensure the success of this operation.
The whole House will share our deep concern at these events. This is the third major military operation in Gaza in six years. It underlines the terrible human cost, to both sides, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it comes at a time when the security situation in the middle east is the worst it has been in decades. The people of Israel have the right to live without constant fear for their security, and the people of Gaza also have the fundamental right to live in peace and security. There are hundreds of thousands of extremely vulnerable civilians in Gaza who bear no responsibility for the rocket fire and are suffering acutely from this crisis; and the Israeli defence forces estimate that 5 million Israeli civilians live within range of rockets fired from Gaza. Israel has a right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks, but it is vital that Gaza’s civilian population is protected. International humanitarian law requires both sides to distinguish between military and civilian targets and enable unhindered humanitarian access.
The UK has three objectives: to secure a ceasefire, to alleviate humanitarian suffering, and to keep alive the prospects for peace negotiations which are the only hope of breaking this cycle of violence and devastation once and for all.
The rest of the statement together with the questions on it can be found here. I asked the following:
Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): Large numbers of my constituents have expressed the view that the people of Gaza are suffering collective punishment. But is it the deliberate policy of Hamas to put those same people in harm’s way?
Mr Hague: There is a good argument for that, and one of our hon. Friends who has now left the Chamber gave an alleged instance of this earlier. The Israeli Government argue that Hamas in effect uses civilians as shields—that one of the reasons for civilian casualties is that rockets are launched deliberately from within heavily populated areas, Gaza itself being a very densely populated area. It is in the nature of the conflict that that happens and that civilians are therefore in the front line, and Hamas bears responsibility for that.
It is a lamentable fact that Israelis live under a threat of terrorism from people who will not recognise their nation. It is a thoroughgoing humanitarian tragedy that Palestinians face an appalling situation of oppression, poverty and hopelessness that no one should have to tolerate.
Let me be absolutely clear: I deplore the tragic deaths, injury and insecurity on both sides of this conflict. The position of the Palestinian people is dreadful. The position of Israel is fraught and no sovereign state would tolerate indiscriminate rocket attacks on its people.
Both sides should stay their hands immediately and seek a lasting peace and prosperity.