Cleverly: UK and Israel committed to international law, as Gaza offensive looms

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly stressed UK backing for Israel on Sunday (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Wire)
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly stressed UK backing for Israel on Sunday (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Wire)

The UK is “absolutely committed” to international law, the Foreign Secretary has said as he urged Israel to show restraint as concerns mount about the fate of civilians in Gaza ahead of an imminent offensive.

James Cleverly stressed British backing for Israel on Sunday, declining to say whether the Government is concerned that some of the actions in Gaza amount to breaches of international law.

The United Nations, senior EU figures and aid agencies have all expressed alarm as many Palestinians struggle to flee ahead of a “co-ordinated” offensive in the Gaza Strip involving air, ground and naval forces.

It comes as civilians continue to suffer under a total siege imposed by Israel in the wake of last weekend’s unprecedented incursion by Hamas militants.

Mr Cleverly, who visited southern Israel this week, urged the country’s leaders to show restraint and discipline as the conflict escalates.

The senior Cabinet minister said the UK will always raise breaches of international law with Israel, but declined to say whether Israel has crossed that line already.

He told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “When we see breaches of that we raise that, including with Israel.

“The point is the clear difference from statements coming from Israel, saying that they respect and will abide by international humanitarian law, and Hamas on the other hand, who are specifically targeting civilians.”

He also told the Sunday With Trevor Phillips programme on Sky News: “Friends speak honestly with friends and we have a very, very good working relationship with the Israeli government, and whenever I have spoken to them I have reinforced the UK’s position about the preservation of life, the avoidance of civilian casualties.

“I’ve said that restraint, discipline these are the hallmarks of the Israel Defence Force that I want to see.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Saturday promised to “always” stand with Israel, as the world marked one week since the initial assault by Hamas.

It came as tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the UK in a show of solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

The heavily policed rally in London on Saturday took place with little incident, although the Metropolitan Police said 15 people were arrested over the course of the day and into the evening.

Nine officers were treated for minor injuries amid altercations between police and a small minority of protesters in Trafalgar Square after the main gathering broke up.

The Prime Minister, in his statement on Saturday, offered a direct message to Israel and the UK’s Jewish community – both left reeling following the assault by Palestinian militants.

Condemning the “evil” attack, he said the UK will do “everything we can to support Israel in restoring the security it deserves”.

He added: “We stand with Israel, not just today, not just tomorrow, but always.

“And I stand with you, the British Jewish community, not just today, not just tomorrow, but always. Am Yisrael Chai.”

Mr Sunak is expected to meet on Sunday with King Abdullah of Jordan in London to discuss the situation in the Middle East.

The King has embarked on a European tour, his office said, to “rally international support to stop the war on Gaza”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself, called for all parties to the conflict to follow international law and ensure “safe humanitarian corridors in Gaza for those fleeing violence”.

On Sunday, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy reiterated his leader’s message, and said he is “concerned” at Israel’s suggestion Gazans should evacuate hospitals.

“That is incredibly unlikely for those who are very seriously injured and humanitarian workers who put themselves in harm’s way.

“There is an obligation to minimise civilian casualties in that situation.”

It comes as the Foreign Office said three charter flights have left Israel carrying Britons, with more expected in the coming hours.

Two were commercial flights, while one saw the Government use an RAF A400M transport plane.

British officials are working with the Egyptian authorities in an effort to facilitate British and dual nationals, as well as their spouses and children, to leave Gaza through the Rafah border crossing.

Mr Cleverly said it is proving “incredibly difficult” to open the crossing, as he said the UK will continue to support British citizens.