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UK: Labour calls for ‘pause’ in Israel arms sales as Cameron dithers

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy says the government should prevent the sale of weapons likely to be used in Israel’s offensive on Rafah
An Israeli helicopter fires flares over central Gaza in April (AFP)
An Israeli helicopter fires flares over central Gaza in April (AFP)

The UK's Labour Party is calling on the government to suspend arms sales to Israel amid a new offensive on Rafah in southern Gaza.

Close to 1.5 million Palestinians had gathered in the southern town bordering Egypt, which is the last haven for the besieged territory’s residents amidst a devastating Israeli military campaign.

Since last Monday, more than 300,000 people have fled Rafah to other areas following Israel warnings to leave ahead of an offensive, after Israeli forces seized control of the Rafah crossing into Egypt.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy’s call echoes US President Joe Biden’s threat to halt exports should Israel proceed with the offensive, which is likely to endanger the lives of tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians.

Israel has already destroyed most of northern and central Gaza, killing at least 35,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, and making the enclave uninhabitable for most of its residents.

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A full-scale assault on Rafah would leave Gaza almost entirely without the infrastructure needed to support its population of 2.3 million and will heighten the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

“President Biden is correct to tell [Israeli] Prime Minister Netanyahu that the US will not supply weapons that could be used in a Rafah offensive if Israel proceeds with a full-scale attack on Rafah against the international community’s warnings,” Lammy said, according to a report published in the Daily Telegraph.

He added: “The UK government should now work with the US to try and prevent a Rafah offensive by being clear it will assess UK exports and, if the Rafah offensive goes ahead, join our American allies in suspending weapons or components that could be used in that Rafah offensive.”

Embargo ‘not wise’

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron has previously said it is "not wise" for the UK to suspend arms sales to Israel.

Speaking to the BBC, Cameron said he did not agree with comments made by Biden that suggested imposing some restrictions on weapons exports if Israel attacked Rafah.

"The last time I was urged to do that, I didn't do that, and just a few days later there was a brutal attack by Iran on Israel," Cameron said, referring to a direct attack by Iran on Israel last month that left no reported casualties.

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"Just to simply announce today that we will change our approach on arms exports, it would make Hamas stronger and it would make a hostage deal less likely."

According to the British foreign secretary, the UK is continuously assessing arms sales to Israel.

Netanyahu, who is under pressure at home for his failure to defeat Hamas after seven months of war or to free captives held by the group, appears adamant about attacking Rafah.

"If we must, we shall fight with our fingernails. But we have much more than our fingernails, and with that strength of spirit, with God’s help, together we shall be victorious," he said, responding to the US threat to withhold weapons.

The Israeli military has downplayed the US threat, saying it already has enough munitions for the offensive on Rafah.

Washington has been Israel’s key backer throughout the war, expediting munition and weapons transfers.

It has backed Israel diplomatically and will supply Israel with more than $26bn in aid over the coming months.

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