A senior Tory has called on the Government to deliver a “little less limp response” to the terrible situation at the border with Gaza.
On Monday, Israeli forces killed 58 Palestinians, most by gunfire, and injured more than 2,700 during protests along the border – while a few miles away a ceremony was taking place in Jerusalem for the opening of the controversial new US embassy.
Speaking during Labour’s urgent question on violence at the Gaza border, Tory Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) said: “Even allowing for Hamas’ wicked manipulation of the Palestinians, will he accept that the response of the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) was a wholly unacceptable and excessive use of force and a totally disproportionate response, and may I also say to my shame that I hope our Foreign Office will indulge in… a little less limp response to this terrible situation.”
Middle East Minister Alistair Burt said it was precisely the reasons to find out why there had been the extent of live fire that an independent inquiry was called for.
He added: “But the extent of the live fire, the extent of the injuries beyond the fence, the number of people involved, the sort of people who’ve been caught up in it, give a sense of why he raised that question.
“And if we don’t also question that as well as the engagement of those who might have been involved in inflaming the protests, we wouldn’t be doing our job correctly – so we will do both.”
Tory former FCO minister Sir Hugo Swire (East Devon) added: “But he must concede that one of the reasons it is a festering hellhole, and if you like a breeding ground for terrorists, is because each and every time there has been an attempt to improve the livelihoods of the Gazans…Israel has blockaded it, that is the problem.”
SNP international affairs spokesperson Stephen Gethins said the conflict was not helped by the “reckless move” of the US embassy to Jerusalem.
Mr Burt replied: “This is not a move that we supported and indeed the Foreign Secretary said yesterday it was the wrong card played at the wrong time.”
He added: “Unless those on both sides understand the needs of each of the other, we won’t get to a solution here.”
Labour’s Hilary Benn said all countries, Israel included, had the right to defend themselves, but added there was “no justification, none whatsoever, for the IDF shooting at and killing unarmed protesters inside Gaza”.
He added: “The fact that there is no peace process at all at the moment is the greatest tragedy of all and we must continue to strive for one with the courageous political leadership that will involve. Will he not agree in return that the very least we can do in these circumstances is to tell the truth about what is going.”
Lib Dem Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) said: “I absolutely agree Hamas is partly responsible for this and in between Hamas and a very extreme Israeli prime minister we have the blood of children.
“Would he not agree however that the two sides are not meeting as equals among whatever peace process tabled and that now is the moment to give recognition to the Palestinians, so that we have hope because that is also what has died this week.”
Mr Burt replied: “The recognition of a Palestinian state remains open to the UK and a time when it’s best designed to serve the cause of peace and that will remain the UK’s position.”
Labour’s Yvette Cooper said sober, serious foreign policy was urgently needed in the Middle East, adding that the US’s “reckless, irresponsible embassy move means they are not providing it”.
She called for EU governments to work closely together to urgently pressurise the Israeli government to change tack.
Mr Burt replied: “The US will remain a central part of what needs to happen in Israel,but it does need to give a greater sense of understanding of some of the underlying issues that on occasions its statements suggest and we will work with our partners because they should be part of the solution and yesterday’s timing and yesterday’s event, that split screen I think will be one of the images of 2018.”