Britain's Cameron calls for maritime corridor access to Israel's Ashdod

UK Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell tells Israeli officials to keep Al Aqsa Mosque open for Muslims during Ramadan

First aid ship leaves Cyprus for Gaza

First aid ship leaves Cyprus for Gaza
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David Cameron, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, has called on Israel to take responsibility for ensuring adequate aid flows reach Gaza, including allowing the maritime corridor from Cyprus access to Ashdod, the nearest coastal port to the occupied territory.

Lord Cameron said Israeli authorities could make the difference between starvation and survival for many in Gaza because the current blockages and screening problems "are their responsibility".

He cited a convoy of aid lorries that was held at the King Hussein border crossing from Jordan for 18 days.

“If Israel really wanted to help, they could open Ashdod … a fully functioning port that could really maximise the delivery of aid from Cyprus straight into Israel and therefore into Gaza," Lord Cameron told the UK Parliament on Tuesday.

“We are doing all we can to increase aid into Gaza. We have been collaborating with Jordan on humanitarian aid drops and are now working with partners to operationalise a maritime aid corridor from Cyprus.

“However, this cannot substitute delivery by land, which remains the best way to get aid in at the scale that is needed.

In addition, more visas for UN staff were required, he said. "This is one of the trickiest pieces of the jigsaw. One of the things Israel needs to do is give out more visas to UN workers, who are capable of distributing the aid when it arrives into Gaza,” he said. “Israel must remove restrictions on aid and restore electricity, water and telecommunications."

Lord Cameron's deputy Andrew Mitchell has “very strongly” urged the Israeli government to keep Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem open to all Muslim worshippers during Ramadan.

Mr Mitchell, a Foreign Office minister, also called for Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank who are suspected to have killed Palestiniansto be promptly arrested and prosecuted by the Israeli authorities.

During foreign affairs questions in Parliament, he was asked by Catherine West, the shadow foreign minister, about concerns that Israel would impose religious worship restrictions on Al Aqsa, Islam’s third holiest site.

She also asked whether recent comments by Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel's right-wing National Security Minister, on banning younger Muslim worshippers were “unacceptable and inflamed tensions”.

Mr Mitchell responded that her arguments were “points which the British government makes very strongly to Israel” and that it was “helpful that the opposition and the government speak with one voice on this very important question”.

He added that she was “entirely right about the importance of religious freedom, particularly in the circumstances which she so clearly set out”.

With more than 400 Palestinians killed in the West Bank by settlers and Israeli forces since October 7, Mr Mitchell was asked what steps were being taken against those who had committed crimes.

“We want to see them arrested, tried and punished for those for those activities,” he confirmed.

He said in any future settlement the Palestinian Authority, which in a postwar scenario is expected to govern Gaza instead of Hamas, would require thorough reform.

“We want to see the Palestinian Authority reinvigorated with new leadership and a strong approach to taking up the roles that it will need to do when the sky clears,” he said.

“There is no place for Hamas in the future government of Palestine."

Asked about future British funding for UNRWA, the aid agency that supports Palestinian refugees, that was stopped over allegations that some of its staff had participated in the Hamas-led October 7 attacks, Mr Mitchell suggested the financing could resume in the new financial year starting next month.

He said the government was awaiting the report of the UN Office of Internal Oversight.

“We hope that as a result of that report, changes will be secured and that we can continue to fund UNRWA.”

The government was also told the “British public don't want to be responsible for starvation in Gaza”. Mr Mitchell insisted the Israeli government was being pressed to allow more aid in.

“It is the policy of the British government to do everything it can to achieve a pause [in hostilities] so we can get the hostages out and more aid in.”

Updated: March 12, 2024, 6:11 PM