LONDON: The UK’s Middle East and North Africa Minister James Cleverly said Wednesday Israel had a “legitimate right to defend itself” in the British government’s most vocal support for Israeli bombardment of Gaza to date.
Cleverly, speaking in the UK parliament, condemned the firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas, saying action on both sides had to be “proportionate” and avoid civilian casualties, the Independent newspaper reported.
“The UK unequivocally condemns the firing of rockets at Jerusalem and other locations within Israel,” Cleverly said.
“We strongly condemn these acts of terrorism by Hamas and other terrorist groups who must permanently end their incitement and rocket fire against Israel. There is no justification for the targeting of civilians.
“Israel has a legitimate right for self-defense and to defend its citizens from attack. In doing so, it is vital that all actions are proportionate, in line with international humanitarian law and make every effort to avoid civilian casualties.”
At least 219 people, including 63 children, have been killed in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza by airstrikes from Israel’s military since last week, with nearly 1,500 Palestinians also wounded.
According to Israeli figures, hundreds of rockets have been fired by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which also runs Gaza’s government, that have killed 12 people in Israel, including two children.
Opposition Labour MP Richard Burgon disagreed with Cleverly’s assessment, asking: “How many Palestinian children have to be killed? How many more Palestinian homes have to be reduced to rubble? How many more Palestinian schools and hospitals have to be bombed before the British government takes the action necessary to finally force the Israeli government to stop its war on the Palestinian people?
“Surely now is the time for all UK weapons sales to Israel to be stopped. Surely now is the time for sanctions on the Israeli government for its repeated violations of international law. Surely now is the time — this House voted for it back in 2014 — to recognize the state of Palestine because Palestine has the right to exist,” he said.
Cleverly refuted his argument and said Burgon should “understand that Israel's actions were in response to indiscriminate rocket attacks from an internationally recognized terrorist organization.”
Hamas rocket attacks on Israel started after Muslim Palestinian worshippers were attacked at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem by Israeli security forces and were also in response to Palestinian families being evicted from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was time to question “Britain's military relationship with Israel” during the session.