09 April 2024

Cameron to face questions over Israel arms exports during Washington visit

09 April 2024

Lord Cameron is expected to face questions about arms exports to Israel on a visit to Washington DC amid growing pressure after the deaths of seven aid workers in Gaza.

The Foreign Secretary will say the killings, which included three British nationals, were “completely unacceptable” and call for “major changes” as he meets US secretary of state Antony Blinken.

Lord Cameron is widely seen as having taken a more strident approach towards criticism of Israel than some of his Cabinet colleagues, though Downing Street has insisted the Government is “completely united” in its stance.

The Foreign Office said the Washington visit would be used to underline that the deaths of the humanitarian workers were “completely unacceptable and that major changes need to be made to ensure the safety of aid workers on the ground”.

The UK and US “have been clear in Israel’s right to self-defence in accordance with international law”, the department said.

It comes after Number 10 countered claims of a Cabinet split over the war in Gaza after divisions appeared to have emerged over the weekend, saying the language used by ministers has been “consistent” with that of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden suggested on Sunday that Israel is being held to an “incredibly high standard” compared with other countries, and said there is “a bit of relish from some people about the way in which they are pushing this case against Israel”.

Lord Cameron has called for a “full, urgent, and transparent investigation” into the killings and said more must be done to get desperately needed humanitarian aid into Gaza.

British nationals John Chapman, 57, James “Jim” Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47, were among seven aid workers killed in an Israeli air strike on April 1, prompting condemnation from London and other Western capitals.

Liberal Democrats believe the Government should publish this legal advice, or at least a summary of it

Meanwhile, the Government continues to resist pressure from opposition parties to publish legal advice on Israel’s compliance with international humanitarian law amid continuing demands to suspend arms exports.

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”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We are obviously aware of the interest in this issue and we will always look to be transparent about our decisions on these matters, whilst respecting the long-standing convention that we don’t publish legal advice on these issues.”

More than 1,200 lawyers and academics, including former lord chief justice Lord Woolf, and former Supreme Court justices Lord Collins and Lord Dyson, have signed a letter saying there is no legal requirement to impose an arms embargo.

The letter organised by UK Lawyers for Israel comes in response to calls from more than 600 lawyers, including former Supreme Court justices, to suspend arms sales.

But Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said exports should be blocked, regardless of the Government’s legal advice.

He said: “Liberal Democrats believe the Government should publish this legal advice, or at least a summary of it.

“But often people are raising this in the question of whether there should be an arms embargo against Israel, and Liberal Democrats think there should, regardless of what the legal advice says.

“We think the case has already been made that the safety of civilians is not being taken into account anywhere near enough.”

Israel sent troops to Khan Younis in December, part of its ground offensive that came in response to a Hamas-led attack on October 7.

Israeli authorities say 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and roughly 250 people taken hostage.

More than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in the following seven months, according to local health authorities, with most of the territory’s 2.3 million people displaced and vast swathes of the Gaza Strip now uninhabitable.

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