UK’s foreign minister worried Israel may have breached international law in Gaza

David Cameron tells lawmakers there are questions, though he’s been advised that so far IDF has complied with law; international court probes journalist deaths during fighting

Screen capture from video of Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron as he gives evidence to a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, in London on January 9, 2024. (PRU / AFP)
Screen capture from video of Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron as he gives evidence to a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, in London on January 9, 2024. (PRU / AFP)

Britain’s Foreign Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday he was worried that Israel might have breached international law in its war on terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and that though the advice he had received so far was that Israel was compliant, there were still questions to answer.

Asked during a question-and-answer session with lawmakers if Israel could be vulnerable to a challenge at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague over whether its actions were proportionate, Cameron said the stance was “close to that.”

War erupted on October 7 when Hamas carried out a devastating attack from Gaza that killed over 1,200 people in Israel, most of them civilians, and also abducted at least 240 people of all ages who were taken as hostages in the Strip.

Israel responded with a major military campaign to destroy Hamas, remove it from power in Gaza and release the hostages.

Britain has backed Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas attacks, but also called on its military to show restraint and act within international law in its offensive in Gaza, which has laid waste to much of the Palestinian enclave.

Cameron did not directly answer lawmakers about whether he had received legal advice that Israel might have broken international law but said some incidents had raised questions over whether there had been breaches.

“Am I worried that Israel has taken action that might be in breach of international law, because this particular premises has been bombed, or whatever? Yes, of course,” Cameron said as he took questions from parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

A picture taken from Rafah shows smoke billowing over Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 9, 2024. (AFP)

Cameron said that there was always a “question mark” over whether a given incident broke international law, which lawyers would examine and then advise him over.

“The advice has been so far, that they (Israel) have the commitment, the capability and the compliance (with international law), but on lots of occasions that is under question,” he said.

Israel says it is taking precautions to avoid civilian casualties and accuses Hamas of using civilians as human shields by embedding itself in residential areas.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said Monday the war death toll has climbed to 23,084 people, while the injury toll has risen to 58,926 injured.

The ministry does not differentiate between Palestinian civilians and combatants and includes those killed by errant rockets launched by terror groups in Gaza.

Israel said last week that it has killed 8,500 Palestinian terrorists in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, January 9, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Amid growing international concern over the huge Palestinian death toll from the Israeli assault, as well as a deepening humanitarian crisis, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday urged Israeli leaders to do more to avoid further harm to non-combatants and to protect civilian infrastructure.

Blinken, in the region for a week of shuttle diplomacy, met with senior Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog and Foreign Minister Israel Katz.

A US Statement Department spokesperson said that during his meeting with Netanyahu, Blinken “stressed the importance of avoiding further civilian harm and protecting civilian infrastructure in Gaza.”

Blinken and Netanyahu also discussed “ongoing efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages and the importance of increasing the level of humanitarian assistance reaching civilians in Gaza,” the spokesperson said.

Separately on Tuesday, the International Criminal Court confirmed that it is investigating potential crimes against journalists since the outbreak of war during which dozens of reporters have been killed.

Media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in November that it had filed a complaint with the Hague-based ICC alleging war crimes over the deaths of journalists trying to cover the conflict.

“The office of prosecutor Karim Khan has assured the organization that crimes against journalists are included in its investigation into Palestine,” the NGO announced on Monday.

The court confirmed the statement, saying: “The ICC Office of the Prosecutor’s investigation into the situation in the State of Palestine concerns crimes committed within the Court’s jurisdiction since 13 June 2014.”

Palestinians look at a car targeted by an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024. Two journalists were killed in the strike, Hanza Dahdouh, who worked for Al Jazeera, and a freelance journalist, Mustafa Thuria. (AP/Hatem Ali)

At least 79 journalists and media professionals, the vast majority Palestinian, have been killed since the war began three months ago, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

On Sunday, broadcaster Al Jazeera said two of its Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip were killed in an Israeli strike on their car.

Hamza Wael Dahdouh and Mustafa Thuria, who also worked as a video stringer for AFP and other news organizations, were killed in what Al Jazeera called a “targeted killing.”

The Israel Defense Forces said it struck “a terrorist who operated an aircraft that posed a threat” and was “aware of the reports that during the strike, two other suspects who were in the same vehicle.”

After the latest deaths, the United Nations’ rights office said Monday that it was “very concerned by (the) high death toll of media workers in Gaza.”

South Africa already intends to present a case Thursday at the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide in the Gaza Strip.

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