Israel and Gaza - Statement

– in the House of Lords am 4:26 pm ar 26 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 4:26, 26 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement given in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister for Development and Africa. It reads as follows:

“As the House knows, the United Kingdom has long been calling for an immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire without a return to destruction, fighting and loss of life. This would allow for the safe release of hostages and for more aid to reach Gaza.

Yesterday, the international community took a significant step towards achieving that. We welcome yesterday’s UN Security Council resolution, which reflected widespread international support for the UK’s position and considerable efforts by our diplomats to secure consensus. Mr Speaker, this is an issue that can polarise and divide, but yesterday in New York there was a shared sense of purpose. I am sure the whole House would agree that we must capitalise on this moment.

We want to see an immediate, sustained humanitarian pause, which would allow for the safe release of hostages and more aid to reach Gaza. That is what yesterday’s resolution called for, why the United Kingdom voted ‘yes’ on this text and why the Government are now focused on seeing the resolution implemented as quickly as possible. This resolution sets out the urgent demand for the

‘unconditional release of all hostages’.

Hamas must act on this now. It was wrong to kidnap them on 7 October, it has been wrong to hold them in captivity for so long and it is wrong to hold them any longer. We strongly support the intensive diplomatic efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United States to secure their release.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and my noble friend the Foreign Secretary have both met, as I have, with families of hostages and reiterated to them personally our desire to see their loved ones freed and their agony brought to an end. We urge all sides to seize the opportunity and engage with negotiations to reach an agreement as soon as possible. Now is not the time to turn away from talks; now is the time to bring these talks to a conclusion. The resolution also sends a clear message on the need for all parties to the conflict to uphold international humanitarian law and for the delivery of aid to be scaled up urgently. This requires lifting all barriers impeding its delivery.

Palestinian civilians face a devastating and growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary continue to reiterate these messages in their contacts with the Israeli Government, and the Government are exploring every avenue to deliver aid by land, sea and air. Last week, enough aid to feed over a quarter of a million people was delivered by land from Jordan. Britain is fully involved in the international effort to set up a maritime corridor for aid into Gaza. Yesterday, the first air drop of UK aid by the Royal Air Force, with the support of Jordan, took place.

We regret that this resolution did not condemn the abhorrent and brutal terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October. The UK condemns these attacks unequivocally. We have been forthright in speaking up for Israel’s right to defend itself and ensure that such an attack can never happen again. We want Israelis and Palestinians alike to live in peace and security. An immediate humanitarian pause, leading to a sustainable ceasefire, is the best way to achieve a lasting peace.

We continue to work on the other core elements required for such a process to succeed. We have supported the formation of a new Palestinian Government for the West Bank and Gaza under the leadership of Prime Minister Mustafa. An international support package is vital for building on Prime Minister Mustafa’s appointment. We also want to see the removal of Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel. Hamas can no longer remain in charge of Gaza. Finally, we need to offer a political horizon to the Palestinians that provides a credible and irreversible pathway towards a two-state solution of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

The resolution passed by the Security Council yesterday does not guarantee this outcome, but it is a significant step forward. The Government will spare no effort in building on this opportunity. We want to create irreversible momentum towards a lasting peace. I commend this Statement to the House”.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Devolved Issues) 4:31, 26 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, for repeating today’s Statement. I reiterate that we recognise and appreciate his work, and the work of his ministerial and diplomatic colleagues.

I am sure the Minister will agree that it has been hard to be optimistic in recent weeks, as hostages remain under the control of Hamas and vast swathes of Gaza edge towards man-made preventable famine. The images we see on our TV screens and in the newspapers every day are no less harrowing today than they have been for many months. We must not allow the familiarity of that to lessen our sense of urgency in dealing with the ongoing conflict. Given the unimaginable suffering on both sides, it has been deeply disappointing that successive rounds of negotiations have broken up without agreement, and that the UN Security Council had previously been unable to achieve a consensus on a way forward. We therefore strongly welcome the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 2728 yesterday. The Minister’s comment about that shared sense of purpose is a significant one.

We welcome the Government’s change from abstention on other resolutions to support for this one, and recognise the significance of an abstention from the United States. We also acknowledge the Government’s statement of support for Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa, who we hope the international community will do everything possible to support, and their commitment to doing what they can to ensure that this resolution is implemented in full. For this to be realised, and for the resolution to become a genuine and meaningful turning point, it means Hamas laying down its arms and releasing all the hostages, and Israel abiding by international calls to drastically scale up humanitarian aid.

I will follow up on questions that were raised in the other place this afternoon. MPs across the House of Commons, from all sides, asked the Minister whether the Government consider that the UN Security Council resolution is binding, and what implications this may have if its terms are not implemented. Is the Minister able to say some more on that, and outline his views on that today?

We accept that the Government want to see the resolution, including the ceasefire, succeed, but we are also trying to understand how the world responds if that is not the case. Regarding UNRWA, Minister Mitchell noted that the interim report is currently with the UN Secretary-General, and suggested that an update may be available later today. As the Shadow Foreign Secretary noted, one of the biggest issues faced by the civilians of Gaza is the distribution of the already limited aid that does get in.

We were all appalled, rightly, by the allegations against some UNRWA staff. Nevertheless, that body is best placed to ensure that finite supplies of water, food and fuel get to where they are needed most, and as quickly as possible. Can the Minister provide any updates on the UN’s work in this area and the Government’s response to it?

A further issue, raised earlier, is the advice on arms exports given to the Business Secretary by the Foreign Office. Did either department receive legal advice on the potential use of UK arms that would contravene international law? The Government have so far maintained the usual position that legal advice is not shared, and we understand that. But the Minister will be aware that summaries of advice have been published on many occasions. Most recently, he will be aware, each round of UK air strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen has been preceded by a statement providing a summary of the legal advice. I wonder whether he has given thought to whether that could potentially be a model for the type of material that could be placed in the public domain on this occasion.

The Statement also referred to yesterday’s RAF aid drop over Gaza. The Minister said that the UK is contributing to aid initiatives, including participating in air drops co-ordinated by Jordan, but I think that this is the first time an RAF plane has been used for this purpose. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government are expecting to authorise further missions as part of an ongoing international effort to prevent catastrophic famine?

Finally, as the Minister concluded, we all recognise that the UN Security Council resolution does not guarantee peace, but its significance cannot be underestimated. It is a sign of the international community coming together, and we hope that it will be an important step towards ending the conflict and towards a lasting peace.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. As the House is aware, we on these Benches have been calling for an immediate bilateral ceasefire for a number of months. We welcome the resolution passed by the UN Security Council. Does the Minister agree that we need something more than a temporary ceasefire? We need to work to achieve a more permanent ceasefire, so that we can begin to move towards the reconstruction and political processes that are now so desperately needed.

We, like everybody else, are extremely concerned about the immense, and growing, humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. Latest figures from the IPC, for example, show that more than half of all Palestinians in Gaza—some 1.1 million people—have completely exhausted their food supplies—just think of that. We of course welcome the fact that yesterday, for the first time, the RAF started dropping food supplies directly to civilians in Gaza, but that is, at best, a partial solution. What pressure have the UK Government put on Israel, and specifically the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories—which is run by Israel—to facilitate aid into Gaza to allow an increased flow of vehicles and supplies across the Israel-Gaza border?

We welcome the recent sanction of four Israeli settlers who have committed human rights abuses against Palestinian communities in the West Bank, making peace harder to achieve. Will the Government go beyond this and now sanction all violent settlers, along with National Security Minister Ben-Gvir, Finance Minister Smotrich and all the violent settler movement’s connected entities?

Israel has agreed to a US proposal on a prisoner-hostage exchange that would release about 700 Palestinian prisoners—among them 100 serving life sentences for killing Israelis—in exchange for the release of 40 Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Once again, Hamas has rejected it, saying that “issues remain unresolved”. An essential step to ending this conflict is the unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Will the Minister commit to using all his best efforts to urge the Qataris to require Hamas to release all the hostages, starting with these 40, about whom there appears to be a nascent agreement?

Earlier this month, my right honourable friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton wrote to the Foreign Secretary, asking him to write to the International Criminal Court to ask it to issue international arrest warrants for Hamas terrorists involved in planning the 7 October attacks. Can the Minister commit to doing this?

The UN resolution is a welcome development, but in itself it will achieve little on the ground immediately. What we need now, as we have done for many weeks, is for all the parties to put in place the ceasefire that is so long overdue and so urgently needed.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, for their support. Indeed, I thank many noble Lords who have kept the focus on this issue—the need for hostages to be released unconditionally—since the horrific events of 7 October. We see the continuing situation in Gaza unravel and the humanitarian catastrophe. It is very much on the brink. We debated the IPC report, with its real, clear warning signals about May. As I said from the Dispatch Box then, we agree totally with the recommendations about increasing humanitarian aid. I know that view is shared across the House.

In this respect, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about COGAT specifically. We are working very closely with COGAT. Earlier today, I had my regular briefing with our humanitarian co-ordinator about specific numbers. We are watching this on a daily basis. While there has been an improvement from the representations we have made directly to Israel—we are talking about 200-plus trucks now—there is a need to scale this up massively. Indeed, Israel itself has stated the need to flood aid into Gaza. We were the first to call out the need for the Kerem Shalom crossing to be fully operational, and other crossings, particularly into the northern part of Gaza. We have repeatedly called for the opening of Ashdod port. We are working with close partners on this and engaging quite directly, not just with near neighbours but with other countries that are supporting the humanitarian effort directly on the ground, and, indeed, the UN.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord asked about Hamas and hostages. I say again very clearly: Hamas could end this now by releasing the hostages unconditionally, and we could move forward on ensuring that aid reaches the people suffering in Gaza. I have met repeatedly with several of the hostages’ families. Their pain is incredible but their courage is equally so. Their advocacy for their loved ones and to bring closure to their suffering is something the Government are fully seized of.

We are also very much focused on the suffering of the Palestinians, when we see the number of people, including women and children, killed in this war. It is important that we bring this to a conclusion. That is why we welcome and thank both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their support of the Government’s vote at the UN Security Council. A lot of people do not see the heavy lifting involved in the diplomatic effort. I pay tribute to our ambassador, Dame Barbara Woodward, and her team. I assure noble Lords that it went down to the wire, with changes on words and language, but we recognise the shift in the United States’s position, which was important in allowing this resolution to pass. We now ask for full compliance—the noble Baroness and the noble Lord referred to this—to ensure that we can, vitally, get the hostages out and aid to enter.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord both asked about our engagement on the agreement, which still has not been finalised. We pay tribute to Qatar and Egypt, and to the United States. I am travelling to Egypt tomorrow. We are engaged with all sides on this. We are engaging directly with the Qataris as well as with the United States, because these are important first steps: to get the hostages out and the aid in.

The noble Baroness asked about UNRWA and the update on the interim report. This is a verbal report and briefing. There has been some media reporting on it but the final report will be presented to the Secretary-General on 20 April. We have been very clear about UNRWA and I believe the noble Baroness agrees with the Government’s position—which is shared by the Official Opposition—about the important role that UNRWA has played historically, not just in Gaza but in other near-neighbouring countries in providing support. Equally, the shocking reports we received which led to pausing future funding for UNRWA said that there were people involved with Hamas directly. We recognise the importance of mitigations being in place and look forward to the interim report.

We have not stopped our support, and over £100 million has now gone into Gaza. We are working with key agencies such as the World Food Programme and UNICEF to ensure that aid continues to reach Gaza. However, there is a challenge regarding the number of trucks going in. We have talked about maritime and air aid but anyone who has been to those border points —like my noble friend the Foreign Secretary and I—knows that the only way is through the land borders, which is why we continue to press that.

The noble Baroness asked about UN Security Council Resolution 2728—it is binding. The United Kingdom’s place is clear. Clarifications were provided on this. She asked about the RAF drop and I can confirm it was the first time. It was not the first time that UK aid was delivered, but working with the Jordanians we provide an RAF plane which has helped in this aid drop and is part of an ongoing programme. I add again that air drops cannot replace what is required through the land borders. The noble Baroness asked about arms exports and related legal advice. She is, of course, correct that it is for the Government to review that but I assure her that, as she is aware, our arms export licences are robust. On adherence to IHL, we keep this constantly under review.

The noble Lord asked about sanctions against settlers. We did act and while I cannot comment about future policy, the Government know this and have it available as a tool. I condemn—as I have done, and do so unequivocally—the comments from Mr Smotrich and Mr Ben-Gvir in relation to the Palestinians. I assure the noble Lord that they are no way reflected by many friends and people across Israel and the citizens of Israel. We need to ensure that the only way possible of reaching a lasting sustainable peace is through that two- state solution. That is why it is one of the Government’s focuses and priorities. He also asked about the ICC and writing, et cetera. I will take that back but I know the prosecutor at the ICC has visited both Israel and the West Bank and is very much focused on the situation as it is currently unravelling.

I thank both Front Benches for their support of the Government’s position. I know the leader of the Liberal Democrats recently visited the region as well. I assure noble Lords, as I have done before, particularly on the Front Benches, that we will continue to engage quite directly to ensure that the context of the situation on the ground is well understood. Equally, I respect the fact that many of us are very much on the same page and, irrespective of where we are coming to on this issue, we are all agreed that the hostages must be released now unconditionally, and at the same time we must see humanitarian, life-saving aid going into Gaza to relieve the suffering so we can take that vital step as assured by the UN Security Council resolution.

Photo of Lord Austin of Dudley Lord Austin of Dudley Non-affiliated 4:49, 26 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that aid is being admitted into Gaza by the Israelis more quickly than the UN and the other agencies can distribute it? One day last week, for example, 222 trucks were admitted but only 158 were distributed and only 86 of those by the UN, so the barrier is not Israel admitting aid into Gaza. Furthermore, can he explain to the House how it is possible for him to say that the Government support Israel’s right to defend itself but then for them to threaten to withhold arms exports on which that defence may depend?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

On the noble Lord’s second point, about threatening to withhold arms exports, I do not believe I have said that. On his earlier point, I am sorry, but I do not agree with him. As we have seen directly through the exchanges we have had with COGAT, there has been a real challenge. British trucks with British aid have been waiting on the borders of Gaza. He quoted the numbers; I quoted greater numbers than he did. We have seen a change—an uptick, but it is a small uptick—in the number of trucks entering; perhaps he has not visited to see the backlog of trucks. Let us be clear what has happened in Gaza. There is no infrastructure. The UN itself is not getting the visas it needs. The noble Lord shakes his head, but this is fact. We have been lobbying on this and this is our advocacy.

We have a very strong relationship with Israel. When Mr Gantz visited London, the Foreign Secretary and I made clear the importance of this issue, and Israel recognises its responsibilities. It is a democracy and it has international obligations, including adherence to international humanitarian law. Because of the advocacy of countries such as the United Kingdom, we see that there has been some movement. We have seen an increase in aid going in, but this is not enough. We have looked in detail at the 500 or 600 trucks. Let us also be clear: certain produce was produced in Gaza and that is no longer happening. What is needed right now, as the report we discussed only a few days ago made clear, is to avert a humanitarian famine, and Israel has an important role to play in this.

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that the Security Council has turned into a completely dysfunctional organisation? It rejected a resolution a couple of days ago that would have linked the release of the hostages to a ceasefire. It turned that down. This time, the two conditions are not linked, and they are not enforceable. It is no more possible to enforce the release of hostages than it is to enforce a ceasefire against Hamas, which was not mentioned in that resolution. Will the Minister push for the Red Cross to be allowed to visit the hostages and for the hostages to be released first? Will he also note that the news we are getting from Gaza is almost totally unreliable, because so much of it comes from journalists who are controlled by or in the pocket of Hamas? Will he focus on the hostages? I am sad to say how empty is that phrase: never again.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I am sad to say that I disagree with the noble Baroness. First, of course I am focused on the hostages. I have met with the relatives of hostages not once, twice or three times, but several times over. In my Statement, I spoke about the importance of recognising their suffering. I met with a hostage’s mother only last week, as did the Foreign Secretary. The premise of saying that we are not focused on the hostages, frankly, does not add up.

Secondly, I do not agree with the noble Baroness’s assessment of the UN Security Council. Yes, it has been challenging but what we saw yesterday was the Security Council coming together. On her earlier point, let me read from the Security Council resolution, which I have in front of me. It refers to:

“Acknowledging the ongoing diplomatic efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United States, aimed at reaching a cessation of hostilities, releasing the hostages and increasing the provision and distribution of humanitarian aid”.

It contains three provisions. The first:

“Demands an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan respected by all parties leading to a … sustainable ceasefire, and also demands the immediate and unconditional release of … hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access”.

I invite the noble Baroness and noble Lords to read the resolution, which is very clear.

Photo of Lord Swire Lord Swire Ceidwadwyr

I wonder if my noble friend the Minister has seen the reports that some settler groups, I think mainly in the United States, are now parcelling up bits of Gaza and selling them off. If there is any truth to these reports, what would his comments be? Secretary of State Blinken has been rather ahead of the British Government in condemning the activities of illegal settlers, describing them as illegal under international law, whereas we have sanctioned named settlers. Can we expect to move closer to the American position on this? If these settlers are being encouraged illegally by the Netanyahu Government, why do we continue to sell them arms?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that we work very closely with the United States. As I have said before, and as my noble friend has repeated, it has been a consistent position of every Government I can remember that settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are illegal and against international law. I have alluded to the issue of our own arms exports and the importance of Israel’s adherence to international humanitarian law.

Photo of Baroness Blower Baroness Blower Llafur

My Lords, aid agencies have reported that the list of goods allowed by the Israeli Government into Gaza is hard to access and subject to change without warning. Can the Minister say whether any diplomatic initiatives have been taken to put pressure on the Israeli Government to publish an official list of what is allowed in, and to make sure that it covers all the clear nutrition, food and medical requirements in this situation?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that in all our direct interactions with Israel, we make the case for ensuring clarity on what is allowed. In the warehouses near Al Arish that I visited with the Foreign Secretary, I saw for myself goods rejected under the banner of dual purpose. We asked for clarity, and we will continue to do so. That is why it was important to appoint a co-ordinator, who is doing an excellent job in establishing real clarity on what is allowed in. We are working with key agencies on the ground and ensuring that the acute needs are directly met. There is an immediate need for basic foods and medicines to enter Gaza, and we are making that case very clearly to Israel.

Let me say again that the United Kingdom, rightly, is a friend to many countries, including Israel. Being a friend means standing with Israel, as we did—this House stood together—when those horrific events unfolded on 7 October. I have said that on that day—it is perhaps reflective of the period we are in, from an Abrahamic perspective—I made three calls to Israel. One call was to a friend of mine who is Muslim, in Israel. The second was to a friend who is Jewish, in Israel. The third was to the Christian Archbishop Hosam, in Jerusalem. Why? Because this is a common cause of our common humanity. Israel is a country which is a democracy, and we recognise it as a friend. But it is also important, on the other side of the coin, that we challenge and present constructive advocacy and bring a lasting solution to this conflict. We would all agree, irrespective of the angle we come at it from, that this conflict has gone on for too long and has cost far too many lives.

Photo of Baroness Gohir Baroness Gohir Crossbench

My Lords, a report stated that famine was imminent. That was 10 days ago, so Gaza is experiencing famine right now. The Minister gave examples of aid that is getting through, which is only a fraction of what is needed, because the Israeli Government are constantly putting barriers in the way. The Minister stated that now, the Israeli Government want to flood Gaza with aid. Are those just words? Will the Minister acknowledge that the Israeli Government are responsible for the mass starvation of Palestinians?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I alluded earlier to the report from the IPC. That is why we are working around the clock to ensure that we make the point to Israel about humanitarian access, which, as I said before, we made in our last meeting with Minister Gantz. The need to deliver humanitarian aid was clear and accepted; that is why we persist on this. I have also acknowledged that there has been an uptick in the number of trucks going in—a greater number compared to last month. Still, this is not enough. It is important that we see the kind of aid going in. A ceasefire is coming into place for the period of Ramadan, but we need it to be sustainable and, ultimately, for the reconstruction that is so desperately needed to begin, so that people can start rebuilding their lives.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Llafur

My Lords, given that we all described—quite rightly in my view—the dreadful attack in southern Israel resulting in the deaths of 1,200 people as “slaughter”, what language is left to describe the deaths in Gaza of 33,000 Palestinians, including 13,500 children and babies? How do we describe that? Is killing on that scale consistent with Israel’s right, which we all respect, to self-defence? Is it necessary? In view of international humanitarian law, is killing on that scale in Gaza, and the horror that is Gaza today, a proportionate response by Israel?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, of course, any person who has been killed in this conflict or any other is tragedy beyond belief. The number of people that have been killed in Gaza is shocking. What happened on 7 October was shocking. We see innocent civilians who have been impacted, whether the hostage families or the thousands of people who have been killed in Gaza. This is a human tragedy; I have described it as a catastrophe in every sense.

That is why it needs all nobly intentioned countries to come together and act as one. We need to make sure the resolutions that have been passed by the Security Council are fully implemented. This is not the first one; Resolution 2720 was passed on humanitarian access specifically. Hamas is different from Israel: we expect Israel to adhere to IHL; Hamas is a terrorist organisation. We are talking about two very different entities. That is why we will never give up hope and will continue our strong advocacy and work with key partners to ensure we can bring this tragic conflict to an end. I am sure the noble Lord, like us all, acknowledges that the loss of any innocent life is a tragedy beyond belief, and we have seen far too many people killed in this conflict.

Photo of Lord Grade of Yarmouth Lord Grade of Yarmouth Ceidwadwyr

Can the Minister share with the House any information he has about the level remaining in Gaza of active, armed Hamas rocket launchers and armed terrorists, if I can use that word? It appears that Israel has not yet achieved its objective—leaving aside the rights and wrongs of how it is doing it. Is there still a considerable Hamas resistance remaining in Gaza?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My noble friend raises an important question. We have seen a continuation, from different parts, of Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel. That is why, as in the key deliverables that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary has highlighted, we need this fighting to stop. First, this resolution can achieve that. Secondly, it means we get the hostages out and aid in. Thirdly, it ensures Hamas is no longer in control or has the capacity to launch attacks against Israel. Fourthly, we can work with a reformed PA that is in control over the West Bank and Gaza towards what should ultimately be our noble goal—an attainable two-state solution. Hamas is a terrorist organisation in the UK’s view. Hamas could end this now. It could put down its weapons, give up the hostages and agree a pathway to peace. Are we at that juncture with Hamas right now? No.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench

My Lords, in the hope that we get a cessation of hostilities, what assessment have His Majesty’s Government made of the attitude of the Houthis and whether they will also observe a ceasefire?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, on the situation with the Houthis, the UK has taken the principled stand that they have sought indiscriminately to attack and disrupt international commercial shipping. Close to 20% of international commercial shipping went through those channels in the Red Sea, which is why the UK’s response has been robust. We have heard the public declarations by the Houthis. Prior to 7 October, they had started negotiating with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a ceasefire and a solution to Yemen. We have not lost sight of that—we continue to be engaged on that brief—but the Houthis’ actions do not reflect their words. If they are true to their words, they will cease—if indeed the ceasefire happens. I am not currently holding out hope for that—let us wait.

Photo of Lord Turnberg Lord Turnberg Llafur

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will remember that Golda Meir said that, if the Arabs put down their arms, there would be no war, but, if Israel put down its arms, there would be no Israel. Is it not perverse to suggest that we stop providing arms to Israel, the victim of that horrendous attack, which is trying to defend itself against further similar attacks?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, going back to what I said earlier, I do not believe that I or the Foreign Secretary have suggested that. We have stood with Israel, in terms of its security concerns, over many years—well before 7 October. Israel is a partner to the United Kingdom, but, as many recognise in Israel itself and as we are saying directly to Israel, being a friend and partner also means that we need this fighting to stop for the sake of the hostages. To get the hostages out, the fighting must stop, which will also allow the aid in. On Golda Meir, I recently saw the film made about her. One thing is prevalent in all this, and in how she made peace with Anwar Sadat: the only prevailing sustainable solution is a pathway to peace.

Photo of The Bishop of Leeds The Bishop of Leeds Bishop

My Lords, given that UN resolutions are not always seen through, as it were, or observed, is the Minister optimistic that this resolution will have the impact we want it to have? What impact will it have on countries like Russia, China and Iran continuing to supply weapons?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

This is an important first step in the diplomacy. There has been an incredible challenge at the United Nations Security Council in getting an agreed form of words. There was a resolution about a week ago which was rejected and vetoed by Russia and China. In front of us now is an important first step in recognising that the release of hostages is necessary for a peaceful resolution. It is an important first step to ensure a ceasefire for the period of Ramadan, leading to a sustainable ceasefire and to getting aid in. If we start building on those first steps, I am hopeful. I have immense hope—one thing I have learned in life is that one should never give up hope.

Photo of Baroness Helic Baroness Helic Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement and all the diplomats for their heavy lifting. Yesterday’s passing of the UN Security Council resolution was a chink of light for the hostages and their families, and for the starved and hungry in Gaza. Yet it has already been interpreted in a different way here and in the United States. The White House spokesperson, John Kirby, said that the UN Security Council resolution is

“a nonbinding resolution. So, there’s no impact at all on Israel”.

I understand that His Majesty’s Government’s position is different, so can my noble friend indicate how we will overcome this difference of interpretation?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank my noble friend for her remarks. She is right: there has been speculation on this and whether the words are binding or non-binding. We are very clear that there are two elements here: Chapter VII and Chapter VI. This was made under Chapter VI, but there is a convention that goes back to 1971 which confirms that decisions passed by the UN Security Council are binding.

Photo of Lord Walney Lord Walney Non-affiliated

The Government will obviously not take Hamas’s casualty figures at face value, so what is their own best assessment of the current number of casualties in the conflict, the ratio of combatants to civilians, and how that compares to other conflicts recently?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The noble Lord raises an important point. Of course, he will recognise that some of the numbers of Hamas combatants who have been killed by Israel are Israel’s figures. When Israel talks of the numbers killed in Gaza, it also talks of a proportion, and that is why it feels it is important that it continues with its operations. We have said very clearly, particularly with the operation in Rafah on the horizon, that it is important that Israel thinks very carefully. As we have seen previously, there are ways and means of having targeted operations. One hopes that with the loss of life that we have seen and the killings we have seen in Israel and Gaza, we will see no more. When the United Kingdom Government talk of numbers and casualties, we make an independent assessment of the situation in Gaza, which is difficult because there is no access, and we also rely on information provided by agencies on the ground, including the UN.