Middle East, Europe

UK premier avoids urging Israel to end 'collective punishment' in Gaza

Rishi Sunak says he is in talks with regional leaders 'to alleviate the impact on innocent lives' but adds responsibility of civilian deaths in Gaza lies with Hamas

Anadolu Staff  | 17.10.2023 - Update : 17.10.2023
UK premier avoids urging Israel to end 'collective punishment' in Gaza


British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has avoided responding to calls for him to urge the Israeli government to end "collective punishment" measures in Gaza, despite questions from lawmakers in the House of Commons.

After a statement on the latest situation in the Middle East, Sunak said Monday evening that Hamas was the only side responsible for civilian deaths in Gaza after its attack on Israel last week.

Labour lawmaker Richard Burgon asked Sunak if he had taken the opportunity "to make clear to the Israeli Government that this collective punishment of Palestinian civilians must end immediately."

"In the words of the United Nations General Secretary (Antonio Guterres), the horrific acts by Hamas do not justify responding with collective punishment for the Palestinian people," Burgon said.

"But that is what we're seeing in Gaza: Civilian areas bombed, food, electricity water, medicines all cut off. Such collective punishment is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. So will the prime minister take this opportunity to make clear to the Israeli Government that this collective punishment of Palestinian civilians must end immediately?"

In response, Sunak said: "I actually believe that we should support Israel's right to defend itself and to go after Hamas and recognizing that they (Israel) face a vicious enemy that embeds itself behind civilians."

Underlining that Israel will act "within international humanitarian law," and the UK will continue to call on Israel to take every precaution in avoiding harming citizens, Sunak added that "we must acknowledge always the responsibility for what is happening here is Hamas' and Hamas' alone."

Condemning the "bloodshed in Israel and Palestine," another Labour member of parliament, Imran Hussain, asked whether Sunak would acknowledge that Israel was in "clear violation" of international law by depriving civilians of basic needs in Gaza.

"The 2 million Palestinians in the open-air prison of Gaza faced a dire humanitarian emergency long before today," Hussain said, adding:

"Yet, indiscriminate airstrikes and siege tactics have turned what was a critical emergency into a devastating catastrophe."

He asked: "Will the prime minister make it clear to the Israeli government that laying siege to civilians in Gaza by cutting food, water, power, and medical supplies and indiscriminate airstrikes killing civilians is in clear violation of international law? And just what is the international community doing to stop the horrific and inhumane treatment of Palestinians?"

Sunak said "the entity responsible for the suffering we're seeing is Hamas and, of course, we are the international community. We'll do our best to alleviate the impact on innocent people, which is why today, we've announced further aid to the region. We will make sure that we provide as much humanitarian support as we can."

He added that the UK was discussing the humanitarian situation with regional leaders for ways to work together "to alleviate the impact on innocent lives and that's what we will continue to do."

Israel has launched a massive air campaign on the Gaza Strip following a cross-border attack by the Palestinian Hamas group, displacing over 1 million people — almost half the enclave's total population, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Gaza is experiencing a dire humanitarian crisis with no electricity, while water, food, fuel and medical supplies are running out as civilians flee to its southern region following an Israeli warning to evacuate its northern areas.

The fighting began when Hamas on Oct. 7 initiated Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, a multi-pronged surprise attack including a barrage of rocket launches and infiltrations into Israel via land, sea and air. It said the incursion was in retaliation for the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque and increased settler violence against Palestinians.

The Israeli military then launched Operation Swords of Iron against Hamas targets within the Gaza Strip.

At least 2,848 Palestinians, including 750 children, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.

More than 1,400 Israelis have been killed in the conflict.

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