British FM: Support for Israel is conditioned on its adherence to international law

David Cameron, writing in the Sunday Times, says ‘We must not forget how this conflict started’ – the Oct. 7 massacre; reiterates that London backs Israel’s right to defend itself

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron speaks with the media as he arrives for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, April 3, 2024. Virginia Mayo/AP)
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron speaks with the media as he arrives for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, April 3, 2024. Virginia Mayo/AP)

Britain’s support for Israel depends on it abiding by international humanitarian law, UK Foreign Minister David Cameron said in a newspaper column on Sunday, days after an Israeli airstrike killed seven aid workers in Gaza, including three Britons.

“Our backing is not unconditional,” Cameron wrote in The Sunday Times.

The British government has been a staunch ally of Israel since Hamas’s October 7 massacre in southern Israel, which triggered Israel’s war to eliminate the Palestinian terror group. But Cameron has hardened his language in recent months over the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.

“Of course, our backing is not unconditional: we expect such a proud and successful democracy to abide by international humanitarian law, even when challenged in this way,” he said of Israel.

Israel took responsibility for the killing of seven World Central Kitchen food aid workers in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged was a “tragic” and “unintentional” incident while vowing to “do everything” to prevent a recurrence. But the incident further ramped up pressure from the international community over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza caused by the fighting.

Noting the “grim milestone” of six months of war, Cameron wrote, “We must not forget how this conflict started — with the Jewish people suffering the worst and most murderous pogrom since the Holocaust.”

A woman washes pots outside a tent pitched by a destroyed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 5, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Israel launched its war against the Hamas regime in Gaza after terrorists who invaded southern Israel in a shock assault on October 7 killed close to 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 253 people, more than half of whom remain in the Strip. Israel has pledged to destroy the terror regime

Six months of fighting in the enclave has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, an unverified figure that is believe to include at least 13,000 Hamas operatives Israel says it has killed in the Strip. The fighting has flattened much of Gaza and aid agencies have warned it is on the brink of famine.

“Calls for an immediate and permanent ceasefire are easy to make but, alongside US and other allies, we are clear that unless you deal with the cause of the conflict — the rule of Hamas over Gaza and the presence of those responsible for October 7 — no ceasefire would last,” Cameron wrote. “Israel cannot be expected to live next to an organization that carried out such brutal attacks and has declared that, if possible, it would do the same all over again.”

He also noted that Israel had agreed to a “difficult” deal for a temporary ceasefire that would involve releasing Palestinian prisoners charged with “serious terrorism” in exchange for the release of hostages, but that “so far Hamas has said no.”

Should Hamas refuse a deal and the fighting continue, the international community “cannot stand by with our head in our hands, wishing for an end to the fighting that may well not come.”

“That means ensuring the protection of people in all of Gaza including Rafah,” Cameron said and warned of the risk of mass starvation unless Israel allowed more aid in.

An Israeli army vehicle moves along the Gaza border, March 19, 2024. (Jack Guez / AFP)

Cameron also noted the UK’s calls for “a new Palestinian Authority government and for a political horizon for the Palestinian people that should include — at the right time — the recognition of a Palestinian state as part of our long-held support for a two-state solution. ”

On Saturday, Britain said it would supply a naval vessel to ship aid as part of an international effort.

Britain’s top envoy also issued a video message that was shared on social media to mark six months of war in which he urged that Hamas immediately release the hostages it is holding.

“Hamas must release them,” Cameron said. “Every one of them. Right now.”

He noted that two of those held are British nationals.

Cameron said that he and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have met with the families of hostages and “they are showing incredible courage in the most unimaginably difficult circumstances. It is utterly inhumane to extend their agony.”

“Six months on from October 7, we renew our solidarity with the victims, we stand with the families. We condemn the terrorists. And we call again, send the hostages home.”

Cameron made no mention of the fighting in the Gaza Strip or a call for a ceasefire.

In a statement on Sunday to mark six months since the initial Hamas attack, Sunak repeated his call for the Palestinian group to release Israeli hostages and for an immediate pause in fighting.

“We continue to stand by Israel’s right to defeat the threat from Hamas terrorists … but the whole of the UK is shocked by the bloodshed, and appalled by the killing of brave British heroes who were bringing food to those in need,” he said.

British Ambassador to Israel Simon Walters (Gov.UK)

In his own message, UK Ambassador to Israel Simon Walters, speaking in Hebrew, reiterated that the UK government “stands in solidarity with the families of victims and hostages, and we wish for them to return home.”

The UK government, he said, is working “with its partners in the region to secure the release of all the hostages.”

“The British government demands that Hamas release the hostages immediately, without conditions. What Hamas is doing is a war crime,” Walters said.

“There is an urgent need in a humanitarian pause,” Walters said of Gaza. “It is the best way to return the hostages and to enter a significant amount of aid into Gaza.”

Urging empathy, he said, “everyone is suffering as a result of the Hamas terror attack of October 7 and the war following it.”

Walter’s video came with English-language subtitles though, in a slight divergence, the subtitles cited him as saying only all “were suffering as a result of the horrific events of October 7.”

Britain’s government is also under pressure to publish its latest legal advice about Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza, which would potentially affect British arms exports.

Last week, three former Supreme Court justices joined more than 600 members of the British legal profession in calling for the government to halt arms sales to Israel, saying it could make Britain complicit in genocide in Gaza.

Britain supplied 42 million pounds ($53 million) of arms to Israel in 2022. In December, the government decided these exports should continue but would be kept under review.

Cameron said on March 8 that a fresh judgment on that was underway and due in the “coming days.”

A Palestinian man ferries water at a makeshift camp for displaced people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 4, 2024 (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

David Lammy, the opposition Labour Party’s would-be foreign minister, called for the government to publish a summary of its latest legal advice.

“I do have very real concerns that our obligations in relation to international humanitarian law and… our export and licensing regime… might have been breached,” he told the BBC.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden told Sky News that the government did not plan to publish legal advice but denied it was giving Israel “carte blanche.”

“Of course, Israel has made mistakes and made big mistakes, and we should hold them to account for that,” he said.

“It’s right that we hold Israel to high standards. But I just think there’s a bit of relish from some people about the way in which they are pushing this case against Israel.”

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