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21 March 2024

UK aid waits weeks at Gaza border as Cameron blames Israel’s ‘arbitrary denials’

21 March 2024

UK aid meant for Gaza has been stuck at the border for almost three weeks, Lord Cameron has said, as he named “arbitrary denials” by the Israeli government as one of the “main blockers” to assistance for the territory.

On Thursday, Downing Street said the UK enjoyed a “close working relationship” with Israel, despite signs of strain between the Foreign Office and Tel Aviv.

In a letter to Foreign Affairs Committee chair Alicia Kearns, the Foreign Secretary said it was “an enormous frustration” that aid had been “routinely held up waiting for Israeli permissions”.

He also contradicted claims by Israeli spokesman Eylon Levi that the Kerem Shalom crossing in the south of the Gaza Strip had been closed on Saturdays at the request of the UN.

Lord Cameron said: “I can confirm that the UN has not requested that the Kerem Shalom crossing is closed on Saturdays. It is our understanding that Israel closes it due to the Sabbath.”

Prior to October 7, around 500 trucks entered Gaza each day, but the daily average for the first half of March has been only 165 trucks. Lord Cameron said this was an improvement over January and February, but “urgent progress” was still needed.

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

But in his letter, Lord Cameron said: “The main blockers remain arbitrary denials by the government of Israel and lengthy clearance procedures, including multiple screenings and narrow opening windows in daylight hours.”

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”.

He also reiterated calls for Israel to issue more visas to the UN staff needed to increase the distribution of aid, noting the Association of International Development Agencies said Israel had more than 50 visa applications pending.

Ms Kearns said she was “grateful” to the Foreign Secretary for being “clear and candid” in his letter.

She said: “Today’s letter confirms what we saw and heard on our visit to the border area – that Israel’s arbitrary denials and lengthy clearance processes are key factors in holding up the delivery of aid.

“It also confirms that Israel has the ability and power to turn the water back on in Gaza, and so far has chosen not to do so.

“If the famine continues along its current trajectory, thousands of Gazans will lose their lives. This is suffering on an unimaginable scale.”

She also called on Israel to open more border crossings and the port at Ashdod to enable more aid to reach Gaza, calling the situation “one of the most desperate, distressing humanitarian disasters in recent memory”.

Despite Lord Cameron’s criticism, Downing Street said the Government still believed that Israel was acting within international humanitarian law.

A Number 10 spokeswoman said: “Our assessment hasn’t changed. We do keep it under constant review and act in accordance with that advice.”

Asked to characterise Britain’s relationship with the Israeli administration, she said: “I wouldn’t comment on reports around private conversations that may or may not happen.

“While we continue to support Israel and its right to defend itself from Hamas, we continue to be very clear that there needs to be much further action taken to protect civilian lives and get more aid into Gaza.

“We are very open and frank in our discussions about that.”

On Thursday, the Archbishop of Canterbury added his voice to those warning of an impending famine in Gaza.

The Most Rev Justin Welby 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.”

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