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UK urged to ban arms sales to Israel after three military veterans killed in Gaza

Former national security adviser Lord Peter Ricketts calls for weapons export ban, as names of three British security employees killed in Israeli drone strikes revealed
A vehicle where employees from the World Central Kitchen (WCK) were killed in an Israeli air strike in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza (Reuters/Ahmed Zakot)
By Rayhan Uddin in London

Pressure is mounting on the UK government to suspend arms sales to Israel, after Israeli air strikes killed three British former military veterans in Gaza. 

The men were among seven aid workers with World Central Kitchen (WCK) targeted by three Israeli drone strikes in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, on Monday evening. 

The others killed were Palestinian, Polish, Australian and a US-Canadian dual citizen.

The strike took place just hours after the WCK team had unloaded a shipment of 100 tonnes of food aid into Gaza.

Lord Peter Ricketts, a former national security adviser and former Foreign Office permanent secretary, called for a suspension of UK arms exports to Israel on Wednesday morning. 

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"I think there's abundant evidence now that Israel hasn't been taking enough care to fulfil its obligations on the safety of civilians. And a country that gets arms from the UK has to comply with international humanitarian law," he told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme. 

"That's a condition of the arms export licence. So honestly, I think the time has come to send that signal.

'It won't change the course of the war. It would be a powerful political message'

- Lord Peter Ricketts, former national security adviser

"It won't change the course of the war. It would be a powerful political message. And it might just stimulate debate in the US as well, which would be the real game-changer if the Americans began to think about putting limits restrictions on the use of American weapons in Israel."

The Liberal Democrat party also reiterated its position that the government should suspend weapons sales to Israel. 

Foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran said the party had for years called for the government to toughen up rules on arms exports, to ensure that UK weapons were "never used in possible human rights abuses or breaches of international law". 

"We have called for a 'presumption of denial' to be introduced for governments listed by the Foreign Office as human rights priorities, which includes the government of Israel," Moran, who is the first British MP of Palestinian descent, told Middle East Eye. 

"Clearly, with the dreadful current conflict in Gaza, it's beyond time for the UK government to introduce such a policy and suspend arms exports to Israel immediately."

Last week, 130 British MPs and peers urged a ban on weapons sales, stating that it was "totally unacceptable" UK-made weapons were being used by the Israeli military in Gaza. 

That letter cited that UK-manufactured weapons parts were likely used to bomb British doctors working for Medical Aid for Palestinians in January. 

Emily Apple at the Campaign Against Arms Trade said that arms exports to Israel "must be halted immediately".

"The UK government is complicit in genocide, and is breaking international law. In refusing to impose an arms embargo, it is showing that it has nothing but contempt for Palestinian people," Apple told MEE. 

"Despite Israel deliberately causing a famine, in which over a million people face starvation, and despite killing tens of thousands of people, this government has chosen to prioritise the profits of arms dealers over Palestinian lives."

'Increasingly intolerable'

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told The Sun newspaper that the deaths of three British workers was an "awful, awful tragedy".

Sunak said that he was "very clear" with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu that the "situation is increasingly intolerable". 

Asked about weapons sales to Israel, he said on Wednesday: "We've always had a very careful export licencing regime that we adhere to. There are a set of rules regulations and procedures that we'll always follow.

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"And I've been consistently clear with Prime Minister Netanyahu since the start of this conflict that while of course we defend Israel's right to defend itself and its people against attacks from Hamas, they have to do that in accordance with humanitarian law, protect civilian lives, get more aid into Gaza."

According to a leaked recording obtained by the Observer last week, the UK government has received advice from its own lawyers stating that Israel has breached international humanitarian law in Gaza but has failed to make it public.

In comments made at a Conservative party fundraising event on 13 March, Alicia Kearns, the Conservative chair of the House of Commons select committee on foreign affairs, said that she was "convinced the government has completed its updated assessment on whether Israel is demonstrating a commitment to international humanitarian law, and that it has concluded that Israel is not demonstrating this commitment".

Under its own arms exporting criteria, the government is obligated to suspend licences for arms exports if it determines that there is a clear risk that British weapons might be used in such violations.

British workers named

The three British aid workers killed in Gaza were identified as John Chapman, 57, James Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47. All three were working in WCK's security team and were former military servicemen. 

They were reportedly employed by a UK-based security firm Solace Global.

Chapman was a former member of the UK's special forces serving in the Royal Marines. He entered Gaza via the Rafah border on 22 March, according to The Times. 

Henderson served in the Marines for six years, according to his LinkedIn page, before taking on several roles at security companies. Most recently, he worked in Iraq as a chief product officer at Garda World, a security consultancy. 

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Kirby was a sniper marksman for the British army for four years and a rifleman for a further six years, his LinkedIn profile states. He had been working for Solace Global since February. 

The others killed in Monday's attack were Saifeddin Issam Abu Taha, Lalzawmi "Zomi" Frankcom, Damian Sobol and Jacob Flickinger.

report by Haaretz on Tuesday citing defence sources found that an Israeli drone fired three targeted missiles at the WCK convoy.

One of the cars was attacked, and then some of the passengers in the targeted car switched to the other two vehicles, before another missile hit. 

The passengers in the third car then attempted to get those who had survived the second strike out of danger - before the Israeli drone operators targeted them with a third missile strike, according to the report. All seven volunteers were killed following the third strike. 

WCK said it was "immediately" pausing operations in the region following the attack. 

Netanyahu released a statement confirming that Israel's military carried out the attack, which he described as an "unintended strike" on "innocent people in Gaza". 

WCK has been heavily involved in the delivery of aid to Gaza via a new maritime route from Cyprus, which delivered its second consignment of aid to the enclave last month. 

The organisation was in the process of building a jetty made from the rubble of bombed buildings to ease Gaza's food deprivation.

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