UK condemns Israel's lack of 'credible plan' for Rafah civilians

MPs warn 'massacre' of civilians is looming if Israeli military operation goes ahead in southern Gaza

Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli strike in Rafah, where millions of Palestinians are sheltering. AFP
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The UK government has criticised Israel for not making clear “a credible plan to protect civilians” for the imminent invasion of Rafah.

Pressure is growing on Downing Street to condemn Israel’s looming offensive in southern Gaza where 1.4 million people live, with Labour opposition MPs suggesting on Tuesday that it would result in a civilian bloodbath.

“We're on the edge of witnessing a massacre, a mass murder of innocent men, women and children at the behest of fanatical zealots in the Israeli cabinet,” former shadow chancellor John McDonnell told parliament during an urgent question on Gaza.

Deputy Foreign Secretary Andrew Mitchell had told MPs that the government was “deeply concerned about the prospect of a military operation given the number of civilians sheltering,” in the strip.

He urged the Israel to allow “immediate uninterrupted humanitarian assistance to the south”, to “flood Gaza with aid” and ensure safe passage for civilians who wanted to leave Rafah.

“Yet we have not seen a credible plan to protect civilians,” he said.

The British government, along with the US, has consistently warned the Israelis that it would cross a red line if it launched an assault on Rafah.

Israeli forces take control of Gaza side of Rafah crossing

Israeli forces take control of Gaza side of Rafah crossing

But Israel moved its tanks taking over the Palestinian side of the crossing on Monday after ceasefire talks broke down with Hamas.

Downing Street was urged by the Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu) to “make clear its unequivocal opposition to what Israel is doing”.

“Caabu has been clear: there should be an immediate arms embargo on all weapons trade to and from Israel,” said the group, which promotes Middle East conflict resolution.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “ignoring the warnings of Israel's allies”, said David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, and “risks catastrophic consequences”.

He added that “we are already seeing the consequences for civilians with air strikes in densely packed areas”, with more than 34,000 people killed in Gaza since the October 7 Hamas attacks in which 1,200 Israelis died.

Mr Lammy then asked: “Can the minister say why he thinks an attack on Rafah does not present a clear risk of a serious breach of international humanitarian law?”

Mr Mitchell responded that the government was “deeply concerned about the humanitarian position” reiterating that a clear plan was required to protect civilians.

Several MPs criticised the government’s failure to condemn outright Israel’s operation and cease arms supply to the country.

“A blind eye will be turned to the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent civilians” if the government continued to make excuses for Israel’s actions, said Brendan O’Hara of the Scottish National Party.

There were widespread mutters of approval in the Commons when Mr McDonnell stated that the attack risked a massacre then urged the government to put Mr Netanyahu on legal notice.

“We need now this government to lead an international exercise to prevent this attack,’ he said. “But one way of preventing it is to make it clear to Netanyahu if this goes ahead, this government will pursue him as a war criminal into the international court.”

Updated: May 07, 2024, 5:35 PM