UK government lawyers say Israel is breaking humanitarian law

UK government lawyers say Israel is breaking humanitarian law
The UK has reportedly yet to respond to a government warning that Israel is breaching international law in Gaza, where over 32,000 Palestinians have been killed
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MP Alicia Kearns says the UK government must come clean following a Foreign Office warning that Israel is breaking international law in its war in Gaza [Getty/file photo]

UK ministers have been cautioned by government lawyers that Israel is breaching international humanitarian law as it carries out its deadly military campaign in Gaza, with the UK government failing to make the stance public, according to a leaked recording obtained by the UK's Observer newspaper.

Alicia Kearns, the Conservative Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, reportedly made the comments during a fundraiser for the Tory Party on March 13.

Kearns’ comments contradict Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s stance on Israel, which has included the denial of Israeli war crimes and the UK’s continued arms sales to Tel Aviv.

Kearns, the MP for Rutland and Melton, said she stood by her comments and has repeatedly pressed UK ministers, including Foreign Secretary David Cameron, on the legal advice they have received.

"I remain 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, which is the legal determination it has to make," she said.

"The Foreign Office has received official legal advice that Israel has broken international humanitarian law but the government has not announced it," she said at the event.

Kearns seemingly called out the government for its lack of transparency, and its refusal to halt arms sales to Israel.

"They have not said it, they haven’t stopped arms exports. They have done a few very small sanctions on Israeli settlers and everyone internationally is agreed that settlers are illegal, that they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing, and the ways in which they have continued and the money that’s been put in."

Kearns’ comments will undoubtedly place the likes of Sunak and Cameron under pressure. Legal experts have also warned that inaction would mean that the UK is at risk of breaching international law and being complicit in war crimes, as London continues to export arms to Israel, the UK's Guardian newspaper said.

Earlier this week, over 130 UK lawmakers called on the British government to suspend arms sales to Israel and cited the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s ruling that Israel was plausibly violating the Genocide Convention.

Israel has waged a brutal military onslaught in Gaza for almost six months, killing at least 32,705 as of Saturday – mostly women and children.

Kearns, however, said that she – like Cameron- believed in Israel’s "right to self-defence", but added that such a right is "not limitless".

In January, Kearns had reportedly confronted Cameron about Israel’s violation of international law, during a foreign affairs select committee session, the Guardian said.

The MP asked the Foreign Secretary whether he’s ever had a piece of paper put in front of him by a Foreign Office lawyer that said "Israel is in breach of its international humanitarian commitments under international humanitarian law".

Cameron initially said that he doesn't “recall every single piece of paper put in front of him", but later stated "of course he’s worried" whether Tel Aviv has "breached international law or not".

The Labour Party, also criticised for its weak stance on Gaza, has reportedly asked the Conservative Party to publish legal advice it had received concerning Israel’s compliance with international law.

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Throughout its war on Gaza, Israel has been subject to international criticism for atrocities committed in Gaza. South Africa accused the country of carrying out a genocide against the Palestinian people in the territory, through violence and blocking of basic essentials, such as food and water.