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UK faces mounting challenges on arms sales to Israel and Unrwa funding

Over 130 parliamentarians call for an immediate suspension of arms sales and a British-Palestinian man threatens legal action over suspended aid
Palestinians check the rubble of buildings destroyed following overnight Israeli bombardment in Rafah, 27 March 2024 (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The UK government is facing mounting challenges to its policies on the Gaza war, with over 130 parliamentarians calling for a halt to arms sales to Israel and a British-Palestinian man threatening legal action over the UK's decision to suspend funding to Unrwa.

In a letter on Wednesday, cross-party MPs and members of the House of Lords accused the government of having "failed to act" in response to "overwhelming" evidence of Israeli violations of international law, and concerns that UK-made weapons are being used in Gaza.

"Business as usual" for UK arms exports to Israel "is totally unacceptable", they wrote, pointing to other countries, most recently Canada, which have halted their sales.

The letter, coordinated by Labour MP Zarah Sultana, also highlighted an Israeli military attack on a compound in Gaza housing British doctors working for a British charity in January which the UN has found most likely involved both US and UK-made weaponry.

"In previous escalations of the conflict, UK governments have admitted that UK-made arms could have been used by Israel in Gaza," they wrote.

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"Today the scale of violence committed by the Israeli military is vastly more deadly, but the UK government has failed to act."

The Foreign Office responded to the letter by directing Middle East Eye to comments foreign office minister Andrew Mitchell made in parliament on Tuesday.

"We regularly review Israel's adherence to international humanitarian law and act in accordance with that," Mitchell told MPs.

The Department for Business and Trade did not respond to a request for comment.

The government is also facing a legal challenge from a British-Palestinian man whose parents live in northern Gaza, over the UK's ongoing decision to pause funding for Unrwa, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

On Wednesday, the UK-based Bindmans law firm sent a pre-action letter on his behalf to the Foreign Office, threatening a judicial review if the government does not announce the restoration of Unrwa funding by next Tuesday.

Lawyers representing the man said the UK had failed to provide an adequate explanation as to why it had withdrawn its funds, a move that it said had - along with the withdrawal of support from other countries - a "profound impact" on the agency's capabilities in Gaza.

The parents of the man, whose name has not been released publicly, are completely reliant on Unrwa aid and have reported major shortages of food, water and other essentials. Experts have said a famine may already be happening in north Gaza.

'Imperative' funding is reinstated

Alice Hardy, a partner at Bindmans working on the case, said the UK government's strategy focuses on providing life-saving humanitarian assistance and working to prevent the worst forms of human suffering.

“Given the catastrophic situation in Gaza, including an impending, man-made famine, the ongoing decision to cease funding to Unrwa is not only morally wrong but flies in the face of that strategy," Hardy said.

"Canada, Sweden, Australia and the EU are satisfied with the measures that have been taken. The immense suffering of the Gazan people makes it imperative to reinstate funding to Unrwa as quickly as possible.”

The Foreign Office, when asked for comment, again pointed MEE to comments made by Mitchell in parliament on Tuesday in which he noted that the UK had fully funded Unrwa until the end of April.

Mitchell said the government "very much hope" the its position on funding will be clarified by the reports into two investigations into the allegations against Unrwa "for which we are waiting by the time any additional British money would be due".

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