David Cameron 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
LONDON – British Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament on Wednesday “as a friend of Israel” that the blockade on the Gaza Strip was not in Israel’s interest and was in fact strengthening Hamas’s grip on the territory.
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In his very first “question time” in the House of Commons, and responding to a question by Labor’s acting leader Harriet Harman, Cameron said it was in Israel’s interest to lift the blockade of Gaza.
In her question to Cameron, Harman said: “I’m sure the prime minister agrees this is a tragic loss of life which has angered Palestinians and dismayed friends of Israel, too. Will he tell us how the government can contribute to international efforts to make the Israelis recognize that the blockade of Gaza is prolonging the suffering of the Palestinians and making peace in the Middle East even harder to achieve? This blockade must end.”
Responding to the question, Cameron said: “We should do everything we can through the United Nations, where resolution 1860 is absolutely clear about the need to end the blockade and open up Gaza. What I would say in addition is that friends of Israel, and I count myself a friend of Israel, should be saying to Israel that the blockade actually strengths Hamas’s grip on the economy and on Gaza, and it’s in their own interest to lift it and allow these vital supplies to get through.”
Cameron said: “What has happened is completely unacceptable, we should be clear about that and we should also deplore the loss of life,” he said. “We should do everything we can to make sure this does not happen again, and I stressed this point in a conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
In a statement to parliament, Foreign Minister William Hague said the government had expressed disappointment to Israel for its lack of preparedness for the incident.
“We have expressed our disappointment to the Israeli government about the levels of preparedness on their part and the fact that we have not yet been given full information about British nationals detained and access to all of them,” Hague said.
Stating that the government has now issued a warning to British nationals, advising against travel to Gaza, he set out Britain’s position and the next steps it will take.
“There is real, understandable and justified anger at the events which have unfolded. Our clear advice to British nationals is not to travel to Gaza. However we have made clear in public and to the Israeli government that we deeply deplore the loss of life and look to Israel to do everything possible to avoid a repeat of this unacceptable situation. The UN and EU have rightly condemned the violence with resulted in the loss of these lives. We have demanded urgent information about and access to all UK nationals involved.”
The Foreign Minister called for a full, independent and impartial investigation into the incident.
“We are seriously concerned about the seizure of British nationals in international waters and this aspect of the Israeli operation must form a key part of the investigation, Hague said. “The UK has played its full part in the EU and UN in agreeing on the need for a full, credible, impartial and independent investigation into the events. Our goal is a process which ensures full accountability for the events which occurred and which commands the confidence of the international community, including international participation. Further discussions are taking place in other international fora, including at NATO and in the UN Human Rights Council.”
He added that Britain would “stress to the Israeli government the need for it to act with restraint and in line with its international obligations, given that its actions appear to have gone beyond what was warranted or proportionate. We need to know whether more could have been done to minimize the risks or to reduce the number of deaths and injuries.”
He also called for the “unfettered” flow of aid to Gaza.
“The Palestinian economy, whether in Gaza or the West Bank, is an
essential part of a viable Palestinian state that I hope will one day
live alongside Israel in peace and security. As the once-productive
private sector has been decimated and ordinary Gazans have lost their
jobs and their incomes, it is tunnel entrepreneurs and their Hamas
backers who benefit,” he said.
With the view that Hamas, and other groups “even more” radical, are
gaining support as a result, Hague said the restrictions were
counterproductive to Israel’s security.
However, he also reminded parliament about the role of Hamas and called on the Islamist group to release Gilad Schalit.
“The House should not forget the role played by Hamas in this conflict.
They continue to pursue an ideology of violence and directly to
undermine prospects for peace. Violence has continued in recent days,
with rocket fire from militants in Gaza and Israeli military incursions
and airstrikes in response. We call on Hamas to make immediate and
concrete steps toward the Quartet principles; unconditionally to
release Gilad Schalit, who has been held in captivity for four years,
and end its interference with the operations of NGOs and UN agencies in
Gaza,” Hague said.