Israel duty-bound to minimise civilian casualties in Gaza, says Britain's Cleverly

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly says he has been assured Israel will respect international law

Israeli tanks are readied for a potential ground assault on Gaza. Getty Images
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Britain's Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Sunday said Israel has a “duty to minimise civilian casualties” in any further attacks on Gaza.

Mr Cleverly also disclosed he had had a private conversation with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog who assured him that the country “respects and will abide by international law”.

With Israel expected to launch a major assault on Gaza in the coming days, King Abdullah of Jordan flew to Britain to discuss the situation with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The pair were expected to hold talks at No 10 Downing Street on Sunday as the humanitarian situation in Gaza becomes increasingly fraught.

King Abdullah is understood to be concerned about growing unrest in Jordan, where Palestinians make up more than half of the population, and the potential of more refugees putting pressure on the country’s scarce resources.

With 2,300 Palestinians killed in Gaza and numbers likely to rise in Israel’s looming attack, there are mounting international concerns of a humanitarian crisis developing.

Mr Cleverly told the BBC that Hamas, which conducted the attacks on October 7 in which more than 1,300 people in Israel were killed, was “causing death and pain to Israelis as well as Palestinians”.

Questioned on the growing loss of Palestinian lives, he said “of course, we're worried about the loss of life in Gaza” and during his recent trip to Israel he had made clear to the government it must protect civilians.

“They do have a duty to minimise civilian casualties and I've raised this in every conversation I've had with the Israeli government,” he said.

“Of course we want to minimise Palestinian casualties and we want to minimise Israeli casualties,” he added. “We want everybody to respect civilians, but the real clear distinction is Israel is trying to get civilians out of danger but Hamas are trying to put civilians into danger and that is a fundamental difference between the two.”

Political unease

In an earlier statement to mark one week since Hamas massacre, Mr Sunak gave “unequivocal” British support for Israel “not just today, not just tomorrow, but always”.

But there were concerns that in his 300-word statement no mention was made of the situation in Gaza for Palestinians after Israel ordered 1.1 million out of the north of the strip.

There is some political unease in Westminster over the Conservative government's uncritical support for Israel.

Opposition Labour figures also believe the Conservatives are attempting to portray the left of the party as sympathetic to Hamas. “They are definitely trying to play politics with us,” a Labour source said.

Mr Sunak said Britain would “do everything we can to support Israel in restoring the security it deserves”.

Following anti-Semitic attacks in Britain, he vowed the government would “do everything we possibly can to protect Jewish people in our country”.

Updated: October 15, 2023, 2:13 PM