UK considering using air and sea routes to bring aid to Gaza, says minister

Andrew Mitchell arriving in Downing Street (James Manning/PA)
Andrew Mitchell arriving in Downing Street (James Manning/PA) Andrew Mitchell arriving in Downing Street (James Manning/PA)

The UK is considering using “air and maritime options” to get more aid into Gaza, including through its bases in Cyprus, Andrew Mitchell has said.

The Foreign Office minister told the Commons the Government was considering its options for transporting aid into the wartorn Palestinian territory as he gave an update on the UK’s response to the crisis in the Middle East.

Mr Mitchell also insisted that Lord David Cameron, the new Foreign Secretary, believes it is essential that MPs are able to scrutinise his work, even though they will not be able to question him regularly.

Labour, meanwhile, appeared to criticise its former leader Jeremy Corbyn, with shadow foreign secretary David Lammy registering his shock that “not every member” of the Commons could name Hamas as terrorists.

Updating the Commons on aid efforts, Mr Mitchell said: “At this point we assess that land presently offers the most viable and safe way to get humanitarian aid into Gaza in the quantities needed, but we are also considering air and maritime options, including through our bases in Cyprus.”

The minister also told MPs more British nationals had escaped Gaza via the Rafah crossing into Egypt, but did not give exact numbers.

He said: “Since I spoke to the House last week more British nationals and their families have left, and we will continue to offer all the support we can to those British nationals still in Gaza so that they too can cross into Egypt.”

Mr Mitchell insisted he would deputise for new Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron by making “regular statements” in the Commons, as he responded to concerns that MPs will not be able to scrutinise the former prime minister.

He added: “The Foreign Secretary, the business managers and I all believe it is essential this House properly scrutinises the work of the Foreign Office, especially as we face such a daunting set of challenges across the world.”

Mr Mitchell also confirmed he would travel to Egypt on Tuesday evening, amid calls from MPs to ensure humanitarian aid reaches people in Gaza.

Replying to DUP MP Jim Shannon (Strangford), Mr Mitchell told the Commons: “Discussions are going on with Jordan and also Egypt on that very point and I can tell him that I will go tonight to Egypt to try and further those discussions.”

On calls to commend aid workers in Gaza, Mr Mitchell said: “I hope a particularly hot place in hell is reserved for those who murder humanitarian workers who have put themselves in a harm’s way unarmed purely to protect the lives and interests of their fellow humanity.”

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy pushed for an ‘immediate humanitarian pause in fighting’ (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said that short pauses in the conflict were “clearly not enough” to alleviate suffering in Gaza, as he pressed for “a full, comprehensive and immediate humanitarian pause in fighting”.

Mr Lammy also made an apparent reference to former Labour leader Mr Corbyn’s appearance on Piers Morgan’s Talk TV show on Monday night where he refused to answer whether Hamas is a terrorist group.

“I’d like to register my shock not every member of this House can say this truth: Hamas are terrorists,” the shadow foreign secretary said.

Elsewhere in the debate, Labour shadow minister Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi appeared to suggest that humanitarian pauses alone would not address a “grave humanitarian crisis now unfolding in Gaza”, describing them as only a “first step”.

Mr Dhesi, who serves as a shadow Treasury minister, was speaking from the back benches when he said: “The damage to water pipelines, sewage pipes, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure needs to be urgently rebuilt. That, I think, will require a much longer negotiated ceasefire from both sides and a release of all hostages.”

Conservative former minister Kit Malthouse, meanwhile, suggested the Government should consider urging the UN to deploy peacekeepers to prevent the “unfolding tragedy taking place in the West Bank”, where he said “getting on for 200 Palestinians had been killed by settlers and the IDF”.

Mr Malthouse added: “He rightly in his statement urged Israel to provide protection from them. If the state of Israel declines to do so and the killings continue, would he consider the intervention perhaps of the UN peacekeeping force to keep the peace in that part of the world?”

Mr Mitchell responded: “We have condemned the settler violence without qualification, and in terms of the work of the United Nations, where there are many opportunities I hope in the future, we will be neglecting none of them.”