UK foreign minister rejects Rafah offensive without ‘clear plan’ to save lives

Cameron says Britain has not seen an arrangement to keep noncombatants safe, blames Hamas for plight of Gazans, pans idea of arms embargo on Israel as only helping terror group

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron arrives at the BBC offices in central London, on May 12, 2024, to appear on the BBC's 'Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg' political television show. (HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)
Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron arrives at the BBC offices in central London, on May 12, 2024, to appear on the BBC's 'Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg' political television show. (HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)

Britain’s Foreign Minister David Cameron on Sunday said Israel should not carry out an offensive in the Gazan city of Rafah without a “clear plan” to protect civilians there.

Cameron gave interviews to leading UK outlets Sky News and the BBC in which he stressed that Britain does not back an Israeli military operation in Rafah unless it can ensure the safety and shelter of noncombatants.

In largely identical remarks to both broadcasters about the ongoing war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Britain’s top envoy blamed the Palestinian terror group for the humanitarian situation by not accepting a recent temporary ceasefire proposal. The truce, Cameron said, would enable the entry of aid into the Palestinian coastal enclave and the release of Israeli hostages held there.

The minister firmly rejected the idea of a UK arms embargo on Israel saying such a move would only benefit Hamas and, while speaking to the BBC, took the outlet to task for not describing Hamas members as terrorists, saying the broadcaster should reconsider its policy on the matter.

“For there to be a major offensive in Rafah, there would have to be an absolutely clear plan about how you save lives, how you move people out the way, how you make sure they’re fed, you make sure that they have medicine and shelter and everything,” he told Sky News television.

“We have seen no such plan … so we don’t support an offensive in that way,” he added.

IDF soldiers under the Givati Brigade stand atop a tank in eastern Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, in a handout picture released on May 10, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli troops defied widespread international opposition last week to enter eastern areas of the city, effectively shutting a key aid crossing and suspending traffic through another after its troops on the border were targeted in a deadly Hamas rocket attack from Rafah. It instructed residents in some areas to evacuate, then over the weekend, added more regions to be emptied of noncombatants. Israel says 300,000 people have fled the city in the Palestinian territory since the army began urging people to leave last week.

Cameron said Israel needed to “do better” on allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza.

“I’ve said many times that I’m not content with the action Israel has taken over humanitarian aid,” he said, adding that there are “some signs” of improvement, “but not fast enough.”

But the problem, he said, “goes back to Hamas” for not accepting a recent proposal for a temporary ceasefire that would include the release of Israeli hostages held by the terror group and the entry of more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

“And they’re not taking that deal. So the question really, I think, is for Hamas, you know, why are you allowing this suffering to go on when you could stop it now?” Cameron said. “The real pressure should be on Hamas to agree to that hostage deal, the fighting could stop tomorrow.”

Cameron also rejected the idea of an arms embargo on Israel after the US last week said it had paused a shipment of bombs over concerns they may be dropped in Rafa, warning such a move would benefit Hamas.

“If I announced that today, it might help me get through this television interview, but actually it would strengthen Hamas. It would weaken Israel,” he told Sky News.

“I think it probably makes a hostage deal less likely,” Cameron continued. “So I don’t think some sort of political declaration is the right answer. We should stick with our rigorous process of making sure we act within the law” when providing arms to Israel.

A woman and boy walk with belongings past barbed-wire fences as they flee from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 11, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and terror group Hamas. (AFP)

The Americans, he said, “are in a totally different situation” to Britain regarding arms supplies to Israel.

“The United States is a massive bulk state supplier of weapons to Israel, including, you know, 1,000-pound bombs and all the rest of it,” he said, while the UK “provides less than one percent of Israel’s weapons and is not a state supplier.”

Cameron said he had faced pressure in the past to apply an arms embargo but “a few days later there was a massive Iranian attack on Israel, including 140 cruise missiles.”

“So I don’t think it would have been a wise path.”

While speaking to the BBC, Cameron talked about a video released by Hamas on Saturday that featured UK-Israeli national Nadav Popplewell, 51, who, along with his mother, was abducted by Hamas terrorists from Israel during the terror group’s massive October 7 assault on Israel that started the war.

Cameron, who has met with Popplewell’s sister, said that UK’s Foreign Office was “trying to work out what has happened” to him, calling Hamas “callous” for “playing with the family’s emotions.”

“Maybe it’s a moment actually for the BBC to ask itself again, should we describe these people as terrorists? They are terrorists,” Cameron said.

“If you kidnap grandmothers, if you kidnap babies, if you rape people, if you shoot children in front of their parents — what more do they need to do for the BBC to say ‘look these are terrorists’? They really are,” he said.

Britain has proscribed Hamas as a terror group.

Smoke rises above buildings during an early morning Israeli strike on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 11, 2023. (AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to launch a major offensive in Rafah for months, arguing that the operation is essential for defeating Hamas, which has four of its remaining six active battalions, out of a prewar total of 24, located in the southernmost Gaza city.

On Friday, Hamas launched two barrages of rockets from Rafah and central Gaza at Beersheba, the first attack on the southern Israeli city in nearly six months. The attack lightly wounded a woman and caused damage to a public playground.

The war in Gaza erupted with Hamas’s October 7 massacre, when thousands of terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air, and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 252 hostages amid acts of brutality and sexual assault.

Vowing to eliminate Hamas, Israel launched a wide-scale military campaign in Gaza aimed at freeing the hostages and destroying the terror group’s military and governance capabilities. Health authorities in Gaza say 35,000 people have been killed in the ensuing war, though figures issued by the Hamas-run health ministry cannot be independently verified and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

The IDF says it has killed over 15,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7, while 272 soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border.

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