HomeUnited KingdomSix months since the brutal attacks by Hamas on October 7: article...

Six months since the brutal attacks by Hamas on October 7: article by the Foreign Secretary

First, support for the hostages and their families. I have met some of the released hostages and the stories they shared filled me with dread and anxiety for those that are still trapped. In this devastating and intolerable situation, the families bravely continue to highlight the plight of their loved ones. I join their demands for the immediate release of all hostages.

Calls for an immediate and permanent ceasefire are easy to make but, alongside US and other allies, we are clear that unless you deal with the cause of the conflict — the rule of Hamas over Gaza and the presence of those responsible for October 7 — no ceasefire would last. Israel cannot be expected to live next to an organisation that carried out such brutal attacks and has declared that, if possible, it would do the same all over again.

I desperately want this conflict to end, and for the people of Israel and the people of Gaza to be able to live their lives in peace and security. We must all continue to work towards this aim, but I believe that failing to prepare for continued conflict will lead to further suffering and avoidable loss of innocent lives. The UK stands ready to play its part.

That innocent people have been captured and held is a perpetual reminder of the monstrous organisation we are dealing with.

This week our calls were justified when what we were told was previously impossible suddenly became possible. Ashdod port and Erez crossing will soon reopen. Water will be turned back on. And more aid will flow through Kerem Shalom. This is welcome news, but words must turn into action. Because the alternative — mass starvation — is an abominable prospect to contemplate.

We must see the flood of aid that the Israelis themselves have spoken of. We are working closely with the UN World Food Programme and other partners to get UK aid into Ashdod as soon as the port opens.

As an occupying power, Israel has a responsibility to the people of Gaza. But it also means that the international community must work with Israel on humanitarian efforts to keep people safe and provide them with what they need.

Throughout the crisis, the UK has followed four vital principles.

Second, to push as hard as we can on getting aid to Palestinian civilians.

Our fourth principle — and it remains foundational — is that Israel has a right to self-defence that we should support. Of course our backing is not unconditional: we expect such a proud and successful democracy to abide by international humanitarian law, even when challenged in this way.

We have also led calls for a new Palestinian Authority government and for a political horizon for the Palestinian people that should include — at the right time — the recognition of a Palestinian state as part of our long-held support for a two-state solution. This helped us, with Germany, to convene the key Arab and European powers that, together with the US, can help back and fund a long-term solution.

Our third principle has been to exercise leadership in the region and at the United Nations.

We are also announcing details of our support for the maritime corridor from Cyprus to Gaza, deploying a Royal Navy ship, alongside UK aid and British logistical expertise and equipment, to maximise aid delivery.

On this occasion, there is no doubt where the blame lies: Israel’s inquiry has already enumerated the inadequate processes and the unacceptable conduct of the IDF personnel involved. This must never happen again.

But aid will not make a difference unless it can be properly distributed. Guaranteed deconfliction for aid convoys and other humanitarian work is essential. We are pushing for a representative of humanitarian organisations to have a seat in Cogat, the Israeli body which handles these issues in Gaza.

The tragic and avoidable killing of the World Central Kitchen aid workers was a terrible reminder of the cost of the Gaza conflict. Citizens from five different countries lost their lives, three of them from the UK.

Sunday marks another grim milestone: six months since the brutal attacks by Hamas on October 7. We must not forget how this conflict started — with the Jewish people suffering the worst and most murderous pogrom since the Holocaust.

We cannot stand by with our head in our hands, wishing for an end to the fighting that may well not come — and that means ensuring the protection of people in all of Gaza including Rafah.

But so far Hamas has said no.

Israel has been prepared to make a deal with Hamas for a pause in the fighting, with some of the hostages being freed in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners charged with serious acts of terrorism. None of us sitting comfortably in peaceful Western democracies should underestimate what a difficult thing this is for people in Israel to contemplate.

But a temporary cessation of fighting — such as the Ramadan pause we supported at the UN — is a different matter. That could be used to get aid in and the hostages out. And, crucially, it could be used to put the conditions in place to stop the fighting permanently and start a process of building a lasting peace. Two of the conditions we set out were for Hamas leaders to leave Gaza and for the infrastructure of terror in Gaza to be dismantled. In other words, we would be ending the war by political rather than military means. This remains the right approach.

We all want to see an end to the fighting, but we must face up to the difficult question: what should we do if Hamas refuses a deal and if the conflict continues?

Ordinary civilians must be safe and able to access food, water and medical care. We need the UN, with the support of the international community, to work with Israel to make practical, deliverable plans to achieve this in Rafah and across Gaza. The US have said that they can only support a Rafah operation if there is a proper plan to protect people — and that must be right.

That is why for months the prime minister and I have been calling for Israel to allow more aid into Gaza, setting out in detail the bottlenecks they need to address. Some called this heavy-handed and insensitive. I don’t agree: it was — and remains — essential to avoid an even more severe humanitarian crisis and what could still become a famine.

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