UK must 'take effective action' to get aid into Gaza amid Israel restrictions

Exhaustive Israel inspections are leading to aid lorries frequently being delayed or turned back

A Royal Air Force member loads humanitarian aid on to a A400M aircraft  to be dropped along the northern coastline of Gaza, on March 26.  RAF / UK MoD / Reuters
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Much of the aid pledged by the UK is still being blocked from entering Gaza despite diplomatic efforts, the development assistance watchdog said in a report released on Tuesday.

Since the Israel-Gaza war broke out in October, the UK has committed an extra £70 million ($89 million) in humanitarian funding to the Palestinian territories, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact said.

Britain has held diplomatic discussions at senior levels to encourage Israel to ease restrictions on humanitarian access, the commission said.

When aid convoys reach land border crossings, the Israeli military conducts exhaustive inspections to prevent the delivery of “dual use” items that might benefit Hamas or be used as a weapon.

This leads to lorries frequently being delayed or turned back, the committee said.

It said it had received reports that stone fruit had been turned away because Israeli security considered it to be "dual use".

“While the UK has significantly increased aid to Gaza in response to the crisis, it’s clear that very little is reaching those who urgently need it, with restrictions on land access – the only way to move enough aid – increasing and the situation for aid workers increasingly perilous,” chief commissioner Tamsyn Barton said.

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“That the UK and other donors’ diplomatic attempts to improve access and save lives have so far been ineffective shows how fragile the system underpinning international humanitarian law is, confronting a hugely complex crisis such as this.

“We note that other donors have taken steps such as stopping or reducing arms sales or resuming funding to the main humanitarian agency, UNRWA, while the UK has not.”

The UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and main provider of aid in Gaza, was investigated over Israeli accusations that some of its staff had taken part in the Hamas-led October 7 attacks on Israel.

The outcome of an investigation was enough for countries such as Canada and Australia to restore their funding.

The UK had already paid its planned contributions for 2023-2024 before the suspension, but it has not allocated funding to the UNRWA for this financial year.

The UK’s primary focus has been on securing land access for humanitarian aid, which all those interviewed by the committee agreed was the most viable option for delivery at scale.

Those interviewed agreed that aid drops of humanitarian supplies by plane into Gaza, which the UK has also carried out, should be a last resort because of the danger they pose to civilians, the watchdog said.

House of Commons international development committee chairwoman Sarah Champion said the report showed the UK must “step up to its proper place in the international humanitarian system and take effective action”.

“How can we say that people trapped in Gaza are being treated in accordance with international humanitarian law – or that the UK’s representations are having any meaningful effect?" Ms Champion asked.

“This independent review affirms what the committee saw when we visited the region as far back as February, what we have heard in evidence from aid workers on the ground who have seen far too many of their colleagues killed and injured, and what the whole world is now finally seeing.

“Some countries are choosing to respond with serious action: limiting arms sales to Israel and restoring funding to UNWRA.

"The FCDO’s response to our IDC report on the situation was full of the right words, and the UK’s increased aid to Gaza was very welcome, but in the reality of the situation ... these are nothing more than a gesture.

“Despite all the diplomatic efforts and promises secured, a total of 59 aid trucks crossed into Gaza between 5 and 13 May – the rest turned back on excuses as flimsy as containing fruit with stones in them.

“Before this horror, 500 aid trucks were entering Gaza daily to meet normal need.”

Updated: May 20, 2024, 11:01 PM