21 March 2024

Archbishop of Canterbury urges Israel to allow greater aid access to Gaza

21 March 2024

The Archbishop of Canterbury warned Israel it had a legal responsibility to address the “urgent and monumental” humanitarian needs of Palestinians in Gaza.

The Most Rev Justin Welby said international law called for the “rapid and unimpeded” passage of humanitarian relief for civilians but he accused the Israeli government of preventing access.

The archbishop warned that if nothing changes then “famine is imminent”, with children already dying from starvation and dehydration.

We should not become numb to this injustice. It can never be normal for parents to use animal fodder or grass to feed their children

He said: “Israel’s prosecution of this war has destroyed large parts of the Gaza Strip – decimating infrastructure essential to human survival.

“The scarcity of humanitarian access to and within the Strip continues to prevent aid workers from distributing life-saving supplies.

“We should not become numb to this injustice. It can never be normal for parents to use animal fodder or grass to feed their children.”

He said international humanitarian law was “resolutely clear” about the need for all parties to a conflict to allow aid to reach civilians.

“That is especially true for Israel as the occupying power and applies urgently in northern Gaza, despite the many challenges of delivering aid in a war zone,” he said.

“Israel’s planned military ground operation in the South will only further worsen an already intolerable situation.”

The archbishop said thousands of trucks carrying aid were stuck in Egypt and Joran “because the government of Israel refuses to give them access” and it was “unacceptable” that the number of lorries entering Gaza in March was significantly below the operational capacity of the border crossings.

He added: “The only effective solution to this catastrophic situation is an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages, and sustained humanitarian access for the provision of essential supplies and services to those in need.”

The Israeli government said 17,647 trucks of humanitarian aid have entered Gaza since October 7, but the archbishop said current levels were “woefully short” of the 500 lorryloads a day required.

The Israeli authorities have claimed the United Nations is failing to distribute aid.

But in a letter to Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns, published by Ms Kearns on Thursday, the Foreign Secretary said the “main blockers” to aid distribution were “arbitrary denials by the Government of Israel and lengthy clearance procedures”.

Lord Cameron said: “It is of enormous frustration that UK aid for Gaza has been routinely held up waiting for Israeli permissions. For instance, I am aware of some UK funded aid being stuck at the border for just under three weeks waiting for approval.”

He also rejected claims from an Israeli spokesman that the UN had asked for the Kerem Shalom crossing to be closed on Saturdays, limiting access for aid, saying: “It is our understanding that Israel closes it due to the Sabbath.”

Saying it was “vital” to increase the number of aid trucks going into Gaza, Lord Cameron said he and Rishi Sunak had raised the issue “consistently” with the Israeli government and he would “continue to press this point”.

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