Sunak calls for ‘pauses’ in Gaza – but ignores demands to push for a ceasefire

Rishi Sunak refuces calls for a ceasefire
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On 25 October, PM Rishi Sunak said that “specific pauses” are needed in Israel’s war with Hamas to allow aid into Gaza. However, he again stopped short of calling for a ceasefire.

Sunak has faced strong calls from some opposition members to urge Israel to hold a ceasefire. Whilst Labour leader Keir Starmer failed to mention Gaza entirely during PMQs, the SNP’s Mhairi Black and Labour’s Yasmin Qureshi spoke up where the opposition leader would not.

‘Collective punishment’

Labour MP for Bolton South East Yasmin Qureshi stated at PMQs on 25 October that the people of Gaza are being “massacred”. She said:

This is collective punishment of the Palestine people in Gaza for crimes they did not commit.

This wording is significant. International humanitarian law prohibits collective punishment under all circumstances. When a nation carries out collective punishment during an armed conflict, it is committing a war crime.

However, Sunak reiterated that:

the first and most important principle is that Israel has the right to defend itself under international law.

Read on...

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Notably, such a statement completely fails to address the accusations that Israel’s actions go far beyond mere defence. Human Rights Watch, for example, identified Israel’s use of airbursting white phosphorus in Gaza City Port on 10 and 11 October. Likewise, as Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, asserted:

In their stated intent to use all means to destroy Hamas, Israeli forces have shown a shocking disregard for civilian lives. They have pulverized street after street of residential buildings killing civilians on a mass scale and destroying essential infrastructure, while new restrictions mean Gaza is fast running out of water, medicine, fuel and electricity.

‘Pauses as distinct from a ceasefire’

Sunak said that his government had consistently called for the conditions to allow aid to enter the Gaza Strip and the release of British nationals and hostages taken by Hamas. He told MPs that:

We recognise for all of that to happen there has to be a safer environment which of course necessitates specific pauses as distinct from a ceasefire.

The PM said representatives had discussed the pauses “with partners” at the UN on 24 October, and talks were ongoing. A Tory spokesman later told reporters that a ceasefire would “only serve to benefit Hamas”, while:

humanitarian pauses, which are temporary, which are limited in scope, can be an operational tool.

This again ignored that a ceasefire would also be of massive benefit to Gaza’s citizens. As of 23 October, the death toll among the people of Gaza had surpassed 5000. Women and children made up 62% of the dead, along with 35 staff members of the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA.

Blocking the flow of aid

Sunak visited Egypt last week, where he met Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority on 21 October. Following the visit, the PM stated that:

I recognise that the Palestinian people are suffering terribly. Too many lives have already been lost, and the humanitarian crisis is growing.

We welcome the limited opening of the Rafah crossing – it is important progress, and testament to the power of diplomacy. But it is not enough.

These statements are passive – Palestinians are suffering, lives have been lost, the Rafah crossing opening is limited. What they do not acknowledge is the fact that Israel is actively restricting the aid that reaches Gaza. As Human Rights Watch reported:

As of October 24, the Israeli military has allowed a total of 34 supply truckloads, overseen by UN agencies, to enter via Egypt’s Rafah crossing with Gaza, far fewer than the 100 daily truckloads aid agencies say are the minimum needed. Israeli authorities have also refused to allow fuel, saying Hamas diverts it for its use. Fuel is desperately needed for hospital generators, water and sewage pumping, and aid delivery. While the laws of war allow a warring party to take steps to ensure shipments do not include weapons, deliberately impeding relief supplies is prohibited.

On 23 October, the UK government announced in a press release that it was sending an additional £20m of aid to help civilians in Gaza. This brings the amount promised to Palestinian territories since Hamas’s attack to £30m, after a £10m pledge last week.

However, none of this matters if Israel does not allow aid into Gaza in anywhere near sufficient quantities. The UK government is doing all it can to dance around this fact – and until it learns to speak in the active voice, it will remain complicit in the murder of Palestinian civilians.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Featured image via Youtube/Channel 4 News

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