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Rishi Sunak calls for inquiry into Gaza aid worker deaths Rishi Sunak facing pressure over UK arms sales to Israel
(about 2 hours later)
Rishi Sunak has called for an independent investigation into the killing of seven aid workers by an Israeli strike in Gaza. Rishi Sunak is facing growing pressure over UK arms sales to Israel, after the killing of seven aid workers by an Israeli strike in Gaza.
The prime minister told the Sun the deaths, which included three British men, were "an awful tragedy". The Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party (SNP) and a former UK national security adviser are calling for sales to be suspended now.
He said the UK wanted to see "a dramatic increase in the amount of aid getting into Gaza". Labour says sales must stop if government lawyers believe Israel risks breaching international law.
But the PM stopped short of saying British arms sales to Israel should be suspended. The prime minister says the UK has a "very careful" arms licensing regime.
Former national security advisor Lord Ricketts told the BBC on Wednesday that such a move would send a "powerful message" and encourage a similar debate in the United States. Speaking to the Sun, he called for an independent investigation into the Israeli strike, but stopped short of saying arms sales should end.
"I think there's abundant evidence now that Israel hasn't been taking enough care to fulfil its obligations on the safety of civilians." he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. He added that the UK had been "consistently clear" with Israel that it must follow international humanitarian law.
"A country that gets arms from the UK has to comply with international humanitarian law - that's a condition of the arms export licence. I think that time has come to send that signal." Describing the deaths as "an awful tragedy," he said the UK wanted to see "a dramatic increase in the amount of aid getting into Gaza".
Britons John Chapman, James Henderson and James Kirby, who were all military veterans, were working alongside food aid charity World Central Kitchen as security and safety advisors when their convoy was attacked from the air on Monday.
The other individuals killed in the strike were aid workers Lalzawmi "Zomi" Frankcom, an Australian national, American-Canadian dual citizen Jacob Flickinger, Polish national Damian Sobol and Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the attack as unintended and "tragic", promising an independent investigation.
Live updates after aid workers killedLive updates after aid workers killed
Who were the seven aid workers killed in Gaza?Who were the seven aid workers killed in Gaza?
What we know about the aid convoy strikeWhat we know about the aid convoy strike
Paying tribute to those killed, Mr Sunak said: "To think these were brave Brits who were risking their lives to bring aid to people in need in Gaza... to have lost their lives in these circumstances is a tragedy. My thoughts obviously are with their families." Britons John Chapman, James Henderson and James Kirby, who were all military veterans, were working alongside food aid charity World Central Kitchen as security and safety advisors when their convoy was attacked from the air on Monday.
The prime minister said he called for a "thorough transparent investigation into what happened", when he spoke to Mr Netanyahu on Tuesday evening. The other individuals killed in the strike were aid workers Lalzawmi "Zomi" Frankcom, an Australian national, American-Canadian dual citizen Jacob Flickinger, Polish national Damian Sobol and Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha.
Asked if he backed calls for arms sales to Israel to be suspended, the prime minister said: "We've always had a very careful export licensing regime that we adhere to. There are a set of rules regulations and procedures that we'll always follow. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the attack as unintended and "tragic", promising an independent investigation.
"And I've been consistently clear with Prime Minister Netanyahu since the start of this conflict that whilst of course we defend Israel's right to defend itself and it's people against attacks from Hamas, they have to do that in accordance with humanitarian law, protect civilian lives, get more aid into Gaza." Speaking to the BBC earlier, former national security advisor Lord Ricketts called for the UK to halt arms sales, saying it would send a "powerful message" and encourage a similar debate in the United States.
Arms export licences cannot be granted if there is a clear risk the weapons could be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law. "I think there's abundant evidence now that Israel hasn't been taking enough care to fulfil its obligations on the safety of civilians," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
Parliament recall demand
Sir Alan Duncan, an ex-Tory MP and former Foreign Office minister, has also joined calls for a suspension, writing in the Independent that further arms sales "cannot be justified".
Labour has not called for a suspension, but is urging the government to publish internal legal advice on whether Israel is in breach of international law.
"If it says there is a clear risk that UK arms might be used in a serious breach of international humanitarian law, it's time to suspend the sale of those arms," added shadow foreign secretary David Lammy.
He told reporters there was "precedent" for suspending sales. Former PMs Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair both took the move, in 1982 and 2002 respectively.
The SNP is calling for Parliament to be recalled from its current Easter break, ending on 15 April, to debate whether arms sales to Israel should be stopped.
Watch: Video shows World Central Kitchen vehicles destroyed in Gaza air strikeWatch: Video shows World Central Kitchen vehicles destroyed in Gaza air strike
Watch: Video shows World Central Kitchen vehicles destroyed in Gaza air strikeWatch: Video shows World Central Kitchen vehicles destroyed in Gaza air strike
The Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party (SNP) are among those calling for arms sales to Israel to be halted. Asked if he backed calls for arms sales to Israel to be suspended, the prime minister told the Sun: "We've always had a very careful export licensing regime that we adhere to. There are a set of rules regulations and procedures that we'll always follow.
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said: "The deaths of these British aid workers in Gaza is an absolute disgrace. These brave people were trying to help starving families in Gaza. "And I've been consistently clear with Prime Minister Netanyahu since the start of this conflict that whilst of course we defend Israel's right to defend itself and it's people against attacks from Hamas, they have to do that in accordance with humanitarian law, protect civilian lives, get more aid into Gaza."
"Clearly, the thought that British-made arms could have been used in strikes such as these is completely unacceptable." Arms export licences, which are granted by the business department, cannot be issued if there is a clear risk the weapons could be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said Parliament should be recalled from its current Easter break, ending on 15 April, to debate whether arms sales to Israel should be stopped. Business Minister Greg Hands has said UK arms exports to Israel were worth £42m last year, which he estimated represented 0.02% of Israel's military imports.
Last week a cross-party group of more than 130 MPs and peers wrote to Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron calling for an immediate suspension of export licenses for arms sales to Israel. Last week, a cross-party group of more than 130 MPs and peers wrote to Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron calling for an immediate suspension of export licenses for arms sales to Israel.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves called on the government to publish any advice it has received about exporting arms to Israel. Much of the Gaza Strip has been devastated during the Israeli military operations that began after Hamas gunmen attacked southern Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages.
Asked whether there was a case for the UK to halt arms exports, she said: "We have urged the government to urgently publish any reports that they have on the abidance with international law. About 130 of the hostages remain in captivity, at least 34 of whom are presumed dead.
"The international law is clear that where arms sales are at risk of being used for purposes not consistent with international law, they shouldn't happen. More than 32,916 people have been killed in Gaza since then, the Hamas-run health ministry says.
"That is why now we are asking the government to urgently publish the evidence that they have."
More than 32,900 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war.
Israel launched its military operation in the territory after Hamas gunmen attacked southern Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages.
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