David Cameron accuses Israel of ‘arbitrary denials’ as UK aid to Gaza ‘stuck at border for weeks’

22 March 2024, 01:38 | Updated: 22 March 2024, 01:39

David Cameron has said 'arbitrary denials' are the main blocker to humanitarian aid reaching Gaza.
David Cameron has said 'arbitrary denials' are the main blocker to humanitarian aid reaching Gaza. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

The Foreign Secretary has criticised Israel for ‘arbitrarily denying’ UK aid into Gaza as the region faces the threat of 'imminent famine'.

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David Cameron said it “was an enormous frustration” that humanitarian aid to Gaza had been “routinely held up waiting for Israeli permissions”.

Israel previously claimed that the UN is failing to distribute aid to Gaza, adding that the crossing had been closed “by agreement with the UN”.

However, writing in a letter to the foreign affairs select committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns on Thursday, Lord Cameron said that Israel was largely responsible for the delays.

He wrote: “The main blockers remain arbitrary denials by the government of Israel and lengthy clearance procedures, including multiple screenings and narrow opening windows in daylight hours.

“I agree with the committee that increasing the number of trucks going into Gaza is vital. I remain gravely concerned that any aid — including UK aid — has been stalled, delayed or rejected at the border with Israel.

“The prime minister and I have raised this consistently with the government of Israel and continue to press this point.

“You cite claims — that I have heard elsewhere — that international donors should send as much aid as they wish and Israel will facilitate its entry. I wish this were the case. It is of enormous frustration that UK aid for Gaza has been routinely held up waiting for Israeli permissions.”

He also said that some aid has been stuck at the border for as much as three weeks.

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Lord Cameron said the delays were an 'enormous frustration'.
Lord Cameron said the delays were an 'enormous frustration'. Picture: Alamy

He also contradicted previous claims made by Israeli government spokesman, Eylon Levy, that the Kerem Shalom crossing in the south of Gaza had been closed on Saturdays at the request of the UN.

Lord Cameron continued: “I can confirm that the UN has not requested that the Kerem Shalom crossing is closed on Saturdays. It is our understanding that Israel closes it due to the Sabbath.”

Ms Kearns said she was “grateful” to the Foreign Secretary for his letter, as she said in response: “Today’s letter confirms what we saw and heard on our visit to the border area — that Israel’s arbitrary denials and lengthy clearance processes are key factors in holding up the delivery of aid.

“It also confirms that Israel has the ability and power to turn the water back on in Gaza, and so far has chosen not to do so.

“If the famine continues along its current trajectory, thousands of Gazans will lose their lives. This is suffering on an unimaginable scale.”

Following Lord Camerons’ letter, COGAT, the Israeli body which coordinates humanitarian aid to Gaza, invited Ms Kearns to meet with the body and “hear the full scale of Israel's humanitarian efforts towards the Gaza Strip”.

Gaza is facing an 'imminent famine'.
Gaza is facing an 'imminent famine'. Picture: Alamy

Despite Lord Cameron’s outspoken criticism of the Israeli authorities, Downing Street maintained that it still believes Israel is acting within international humanitarian law.

A spokeswoman for Downing Street said: “Our assessment hasn’t changed. We do keep it under constant review and act in accordance with that advice.”

Asked about the British government’s relationship with the Israeli administration, she said: “I wouldn’t comment on reports around private conversations that may or may not happen.

“While we continue to support Israel and its right to defend itself from Hamas, we continue to be very clear that there needs to be much further action taken to protect civilian lives and get more aid into Gaza … we are very open and frank in our discussions about that."

The UK has provided food to 275,000 people in Gaza as warnings grow of an “imminent famine” in the region.

COGAT said on Thursday that 155 humanitarian aid trucks were distributed by UN aid agencies to the region.

Lord Cameron said of aid sent to Gaza: "Before the conflict, around 500 trucks (of both aid and commercial items) entered Gaza each day. The daily average for the first part of March has been around 165 trucks a day, although there is significant fluctuation from day to day.

"This is an improvement over January and February, but still more urgent progress is needed."