'We are witnessing a catastrophe': Tory MPs pile pressure on Govt to call for 'immediate ceasefire' in Gaza

19 December 2023, 00:16 | Updated: 19 December 2023, 00:37

Rishi Sunak has called for a ‘sustainable ceasefire’
Rishi Sunak has called for a ‘sustainable ceasefire’. Picture: Alamy/Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A group of senior Tory MPs have piled pressure on the Government to call for an "immediate" ceasefire in Gaza amid the mounting death toll in the region.

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Nearly 20,000 people are estimated to have been killed and more than 50,000 people injured in Gaza since the start of war, which was launched after Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis on October 7.

Both the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the Foreign Secretary David Cameron have called for a "sustainable ceasefire" between Israel and Hamas, as they said too many innocent lives had been lost.

But a group of 10 Tory MPs, including former Cabinet ministers George Eustace and Kit Malthouse, have called on the Government to go further.

In a letter addressed to the foreign secretary, they said: "Thousands of bodies must surely still lie under the rubble."

"In particular, the number of women and children who have been killed is profoundly shocking. As you have said yourself, too many Palestinians have died," they added.

"We therefore urge you to recognise that space must be created for the emergence of a new political reality, and that space requires an immediate ceasefire," they concluded their letter.

In the letter, the Tory MPs admitted they had been privately voicing their concerns about the Government's position on the Israel-Hamas war, including their disappointment at the UK's decision to abstain on a UN vote calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

On Monday, the Prime Minister said too many innocent lives had been lost in the Israel-Hamas war as he called for a "sustainable ceasefire" in the region.

Mr Sunak said there needed to be increased access for much-needed humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip.

"Israel obviously has a right to defend itself against what was an appalling terrorist attack perpetrated by Hamas, but it must do that in accordance with humanitarian law," the Prime Minister said.

"It's clear that too many civilian lives have been lost and nobody wants to see this conflict go on a day longer than it has to.

"It&squot;s clear that too many civilian lives have been lost and nobody wants to see this conflict go on a day longer than it has to," said Mr Sunak
"It's clear that too many civilian lives have been lost and nobody wants to see this conflict go on a day longer than it has to," said Mr Sunak. Picture: Alamy

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"And that's why we've been consistent - and I made this point in Parliament last week - in calling for a sustainable ceasefire, whereby hostages are released, rockets stopped being fired into Israel by Hamas and we continue to get more aid in," Mr Sunak added.

It came after the former defence secretary Ben Wallace warned that the conflict risked radicalising young Muslims.

He was responding to comments from Mr Wallace, who warned against a "killing rage" and said Israel's "original legal authority of self-defence is being undermined by its own actions".

Downing Street said a "sustainable ceasefire" is one "that can last, that means that Hamas no longer has a place in Israel, that rockets have stopped firing, that the hostages are returned".

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) should do more to ensure its campaign is targeted on Hamas leaders and operatives.

"But of course, it's important not to lose sight of the fact that Hamas deliberately puts Palestinian civilians at risk by embedding themselves in the civilian population and, of course, seizing dozens of hostages which they could release at any point."

Benjamin Netanyahu's administration is facing mounting international concern over the scale of civilian casualties.

The US, Israel's main ally, has also expressed growing unease about the conduct of the war.

On Sunday, French foreign minister Catherine Colonna called for an "immediate truce" aimed at releasing more hostages, getting larger amounts of aid into Gaza and moving towards "the beginning of a political solution".

Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Wallace warned: "Netanyahu's mistake was to miss the (Hamas) attack in the first place.

"But if he thinks a killing rage will rectify matters, then he is very wrong. His methods will not solve this problem. In fact, I believe his tactics will fuel the conflict for another 50 years."

He said he was not "calling for a ceasefire with Hamas", but instead that Israel "needs to stop this crude and indiscriminate method of attack".

Alicia Kearns, Tory chairwoman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said she believed Israel had broken international humanitarian law and lost its moral authority.

She said a truce that could be turned into a lasting ceasefire should be pursued, rather than a focus on the eradication of Hamas.

Palestinians prepare food in a clay oven they built themselves, displaced to Southern Gaza due to the ongoing war
Palestinians prepare food in a clay oven they built themselves, displaced to Southern Gaza due to the ongoing war. Picture: Getty

She told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "Hamas is an ideology which recruits into its membership. Bombs don't obliterate an ideology and neither can a stable state be constructed from oblivion."

The Israeli offensive, triggered by the unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, has flattened much of northern Gaza and driven 85% of the territory's population of 2.3 million from their homes.

Aid groups have warned of a spiralling humanitarian crisis as the bombardment continues.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran has spoken about her growing fears for her relatives, who are among a group of Christians who have sought shelter in a church compound in Gaza City.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem over the weekend said two Christian women in the Holy Family Church had been killed by Israeli sniper fire "in cold blood" and seven others were wounded, in an incident condemned by church leaders.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said it was a "seemingly deliberate and callous killing by IDF soldiers of innocent civilians".

Ms Moran has warned that her family in Gaza have no electricity, no water or food and described them as "basically besieged".

"I just don't want them to die. Honestly, that's where I'm at. We are a week before Christmas. This is a church," she told BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour.

"I want to see them survive to Christmas. And I'm, at this moment in time, not at all sure that's going to happen."

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