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UK charities have urged British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to put substance to his claim of combating world hunger by calling for a ceasefire and an end to the siege in Gaza.
The directors of twelve British charities, including Oxfam GB, War Child and Action on Hunger wrote to Mr Sunak in an open letter ahead of the Global Food Security Summit in London next week.
“More than two million people in Gaza are going hungry, including one million children. With barely a tenth of necessary food supplies able to enter since the conflict began, the UN is now warning of widespread hunger and even starvation,” the letter said.
The UK is co-hosting this year’s summit with the UAE and Somalia, which it hopes will mark a “reset moment” on the global food security crisis. Mr Sunak is expected to open the summit, where governments, international organisations, scientists, NGOs and the private sector will meet in London on 20 November.
The summit is also part of the UK’s efforts to support communities affected by Russia’s blockade and attacks on Ukrainian grain. At the G20 summit in September, Mr Sunak condemned the “terrible global consequences of Putin’s stranglehold over the most fundamental resources”.
But charity leaders fear the UK's stance will ring hollow as two million people under Israel’s siege in Gaza are running out of food, water, fuel and medical aid to sustain them. The UN's World Food Programme warned on Thursday that civilians in the Gaza Strip are facing starvation because food and water have become “practically non-existent”.
Mr Sunak has defended Israel’s war on Gaza but called for “humanitarian pauses” to allow aid to enter.
The humanitarian crisis had put the UK’s “reputation” on the line. “Civilians are suffering as a result, but so too is the UK’s reputation as custodian of UN Security Council Resolution 2417, which forbids the use of starvation as a weapon of war,” the letter said.
It added that a ceasefire agreed by Israel was necessary for supplies to enter Gaza. “The world has everything it needs to start saving lives in Gaza today, but unless Israel agrees to an immediate ceasefire and to allow food, fuel and other aid to enter, we will all be relegated to powerless bystanders, forced to watch from the sidelines as scores of civilians die from starvation at the hands of a UK ally.”
The letter urged Mr Sunak to condemn Israel’s siege. “We urge you to use your opening remarks on Monday to call for an immediate ceasefire, condemn Israel’s ongoing siege and insist that food, fuel, water and other aid vital for survival is allowed into Gaza with immediate effect,” the letter said.
The letter comes after British MPs voted against a motion for a ceasefire on Wednesday, causing rifts among the Labour party.
British MPs feared the UK had “lost sight of humanity” and “proportionality” in Gaza after hearing from aid agencies on Tuesday.
Melanie Ward, chief executive of Medical Aid for Palestinians, and a signatory to the letter, warned MPs of “massive outbreaks of infection and mass starvation”. Other witnesses at the hearing also feared the crisis in Gaza would have implications for the UK's condemnation of Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine.
The letter’s signatories were:
Jean-Michel Grand, executive director of Action Against Hunger UK
Chris Doyle, director of Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu)
Christine Allen, director of CAFOD
Patrick Watt, chief executive of Christian Aid
George Graham, Chief Executive of Humanity & Inclusion
Waseem Ahmad, chief executive of Islamic Relief
Tareq Shrourou, director of Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights
Melanie Ward, chief executive of Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)
Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, chief executive of Oxfam GB
Rose Caldwell, chief executive of Plan International UK
Rob Williams, chief executive of War Child UK
Caroline Qutteneh, director of the Welfare Association