UK's David Cameron warns against Rafah offensive as Labour calls for 'immediate ceasefire'

Foreign Secretary says 'too many have been killed in this conflict already' in letter to foreign affairs committee

People inspect the damage to their homes after Israeli air strikes on Rafah. Getty
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British Foreign Secretary David Cameron has urged Israel not to carry out a military offensive in Rafah, warning that such a move would have a "devastating humanitarian impact".

In a letter to parliament, Lord Cameron said that “too many civilians have been killed in this conflict already” and he “stressed this personally to Prime Minister Netanyahu on my recent visit”.

He also urged Israel to limit its operations to military targets and "take all possible steps to avoid harming civilians and destroying homes”.

This would be difficult to achieve if a ground offensive in Rafah does take place, he added.

More crossing points should be opened so that aid to Gaza could be distributed for longer, he said, adding that Nitzana and Kerem Shalom points should be open for longer so that Israel can support UN aid distribution effectively.

His letter also called for a "sustainable, permanent ceasefire, without a return to fighting”, saying that his government was closely lobbying Israel and those who had influence on Hamas.

His position was outlined in a letter to the chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns on Tuesday.

However, he declined to say how many times arms export licence applications for Israel have been referred to ministers in the last 12 months, following a question put forward by Ms Kearns.

Calls for a ceasefire are growing in Britain, with the opposition Labour Party changing it position on the Israel-Gaza conflict on Tuesday.

Politicians will vote on Wednesday on an opposition Scottish National Party motion calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Labour has drafted its own amendment that calls for an "immediate humanitarian ceasefire".

It also added some conditions to it in accordance with the positions of other western nations, in a shift of policy after the party previously only called for a lasting ceasefire.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said that his party's position had shifted because of “huge concern” about Israel’s planned offensive in Rafah and the “tremendous humanitarian catastrophe” in the territory.

He told broadcasters: “We said back on October 7 that we supported Israel’s right to defend itself. It is our assessment that there has been a considerable degrading of Hamas’s ability.

“We want those hostages to come out. But we’re absolutely clear that what we now need is an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.”

That requires “both sides to lay down their arms,” Mr Lammy said.

Labour's amendment calls on the House of Commons to "support Australia, Canada and New Zealand's calls for Hamas to release and return all hostages".

The amendment also "condemns the terrorism of Hamas" and says that "Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence".

"Our amendment calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, in line with our allies. We need the hostages released and returned. We need the fighting to stop now. We need a massive humanitarian aid programme for Gaza. And any military action in Rafah cannot go ahead," a Labour spokesperson said.

Updated: February 20, 2024, 7:53 PM