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LONDON: UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron has been asked by his Labour counterpart to break precedent and publish official advice given to the government on allegations of Israeli breaches of international humanitarian law in Gaza.
David Lammy, shadow foreign secretary, wrote in a letter to Cameron: “Given the gravity of the situation in Gaza, the degree of public and parliamentary interest and the risks to the credibility of the UK’s export controls regime, there is a compelling case to publish the government’s legal advice.”
Lammy added that UK export licenses for weapons should not be granted if “there is a clear risk that the items might be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”
He continued: “Israel remains publicly committed to a military offensive against Rafah despite the widespread concerns expressed by the international community about the catastrophic humanitarian risks this entails.
“This week, a UN-backed report revealed that a man-made famine in Gaza is imminent and that more than a million people will face catastrophic levels of hunger, despite food being piled up in trucks just a few kilometers away.
“It is essential that the (arms export) criteria are applied rigorously to Israel as to any other country.”
Lammy’s request comes as the Global Legal Action Network and Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq were given permission for an oral hearing as they seek a judicial review of the continuation of arms exports to Israel, after the UK government refused to ban them.
On Dec. 12, UK Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said: “There is not at present a clear risk that items exported to the Israel Defense Forces might be used to commit a serious violation of IHL.”
Earlier this week, Development Minister Andrew Mitchell said Israel’s compliance with international humanitarian law is constantly being monitored.
He told Parliament that “everyone agrees that people are starving in Gaza,” but that there are “very serious doubts” about whether the term “deliberate starvation” is applicable.
The Guardian reported that an internal memo circulated in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office dated Nov. 10 said: “Without accurate information on real-time IDF decision-making we have been unable to make a case by case assessment on Israel’s compliance with IHL for specific strikes or ground operations during the current conflict in Gaza.”
The FCDO also determined that the UK government could not decide on individual allegations of Israeli international humanitarian law breaches compiled by Amnesty International, including strikes on hospitals and schools, without knowledge of Israeli military reasoning for each incident.
The FCDO also said: “There was no evidence that Israel’s military operations were intended to cause starvation.”
Charlotte Andrews-Briscoe, a lawyer with GLAN, told The Guardian: “When assessing whether Israel intended to starve Gazan civilians the UK ought to look at the statements of Israeli officials who stated they would do just that.
“But the intent of individual Israeli commanders is not the legal test, and the government knows this. Speaking about intent in the context of international humanitarian law is quite misleading.
“If a state fails to distinguish military and civilian objects, or to take reasonable precautions or to make a proper proportionality assessment, that amounts to a violation and it’s immaterial whether or not they intended to cause such harm. This is a text book case of the war crime of starvation of individuals as a method of warfare.”
Former Gaza resident Ahmed Abofoul, a legal officer at Al-Haq, told The Guardian: “The level of destruction removes any doubt around proportionality. Destroying 70 percent of Gaza’s residential units does not indicate any distinguishable targeting.
“The IDF spokesperson at the beginning of this genocide said the emphasis is on damage, not accuracy.
“What else does the British government need to understand that this is not about legitimate targets or distinguishing between civilians and Hamas? This is about making Gaza uninhabitable, and forcing civilians to leave their homes.”
Abofoul added: “History will not be kind to the UK government’s position because it’s not only a distorted interpretation of IHL that is causing massive loss of life, it’s also destroying the very notion of international law that has, to a certain extent, provided somewhat stability in the world.”

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