David Cameron guards against halting arms exports to Israel

Cameron guards against halting arms exports

Foreign Secretary insists banning weapons to Israel ‘not a wise path’

Halting arms exports to Israel is “not a wise path”, the Foreign Secretary has argued, as he said it would be wrong for Israel to launch a full-scale invasion of Rafah “without a plan to protect people”.

Israel has urged residents in more areas of Gaza’s southern-most city to evacuate in a further sign its military is preparing for a ground incursion.

The US has threatened to halt the supply of offensive weapons to Israel if it carries out an attack on Rafah.

Asked whether Britain would follow in America’s footsteps, Lord David Cameron argued the two nations are “in a totally different situation”.

He said: “The United States is a massive, bulk, state supplier of weapons to Israel, including 1,000lb bombs and all the rest of it.

“The UK provides less than 1% of Israel’s weapons and it’s not a state supplier. We have a licensing system and those licences can be closed if it’s judged there’s a serious risk of a serious international human rights violation.”

The Tory peer said he was urged to declare an immediate arms embargo a few months ago, “and the very next thing that happened just a few days later, was a massive Iranian attack on Israel”.

“I don’t think it would have been a wise path, and I still don’t think it would be a wise path,” he said, adding it would only “strengthen Hamas”.

The UK’s arms exports regime would prevent the supply of weapons to Israel if there is a “clear risk that the items might be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law”, he said.

The US State Department on Friday said there was “reasonable” evidence that Israel had breached international law protecting civilians.

Asked whether it would be wrong for Israel to carry out a Rafah offensive, the Foreign Secretary told Sky News’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips: “That’s right, without a plan to protect people.

“For there to be a major offensive in Rafah there would have to be an absolutely clear plan about how you save lives, how you move people out the way, how you make sure they’re fed, you make sure that they have medicine and shelter and everything, We have seen no such plan… so we don’t support an offensive in that way.”

The Tory peer also said he was “always pushing” the Israelis on a hostage deal and achieving a pause in the fighting to seek a sustainable ceasefire, while he urged the nation to “do better on” allowing humanitarian aid into the war-torn territory.

But the real pressure should be on Hamas, he added.

“Hamas have been offered a deal which would release hundreds of prisoners from Israeli jails, that would provide a pause in the fighting to get desperately-needed aid into Gaza, and they’re not taking that deal.”

Israel’s limited operation in Rafah, which it has said is Hamas’s last significant stronghold, has ramped up in recent days. It argues it must invade to dismantle the group and return hostages.

Lord Cameron said putting British boots on the ground in Gaza as part of international efforts to deliver aid would be “a risk that we shouldn’t take”.

It came after recent reports that the Government was considering deploying troops to land humanitarian supplies from a temporary pier being built by the US military.

The US said no American forces would go ashore, and personnel from another country would drive the delivery trucks carrying aid from the pier.

The Foreign Secretary told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “The view the Prime Minister took, and I took and others took, was actually putting British boots on to the beach was not a good move.”

Lord Cameron said it would “probably be via a contractor”.

He added: “I think there might be specific targeting of British or American troops and so I think it’s a wise decision.”

He also said the UK would not resume funding to the UN relief agency UNRWA before investigations were complete into whether its workers colluded with Hamas.

The United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees, the main provider of aid in Gaza, was investigated over claims that some of its staff had links with the militant group, but the outcome of a probe was enough for other countries such as Canada and Australia to restore their cashflow.

“I’m being more demanding,” he said, adding that he wanted to see “real undertakings” from UNRWA “that they are going to investigate these things properly, that it won’t happen again, that (they are) changing their procedures and everything else, because you can’t expect us to pile back in and start funding an organisation when some of its own workers were involved on October 7”.

Meanwhile, Labour frontbencher Jonathan Ashworth said the UK “should be pausing arms sales in order to stop any arms that would be used in that Rafah offensive”.

The shadow paymaster general told Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips: “We do not want this Rafah offensive to go ahead, it would be completely catastrophic.

“The Americans have said they are not going to hand over arms which could be used in a Rafah offensive. I am saying that we should adopt a similar position.

“We should not sell British-made weapons or components that should be used in this Rafah offensive.”

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