Senior Tories pile pressure on PM to back immediate Gaza ceasefire

Politics

Rishi Sunak is under pressure to back an immediate ceasefire in Gaza after 10 senior Conservative MPs accused Israel of carrying out the “brutalisation of the civilian Palestinian population” – which they argue risks fuelling more extremism in the region.

The MPs, including former cabinet ministers, have written to Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron to argue that the case for an immediate ceasefire is now “unanswerable”.

It comes before the prime minister is due to face questioning from MPs on the Liaison Committee on Tuesday, in which the war between Hamas and Israel is likely to feature prominently.

In the letter signed by 10 Tory MPs – including former education secretary Kit Malthouse and former environment secretary George Eustice – the group said Israel’s actions appeared to be neither “proportionate or targeted”, with “many thousands of civilians dead and injured, and close to two million forcibly displaced”.

“Thousands of bodies must surely still lie under the rubble,” they continued.

“In particular, the number of women and children who have been killed is profoundly shocking. As you have said yourself, too many Palestinians have died.”

Politics latest: Tory MPs sign letter calling for immediate ceasefire

Their intervention comes as Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration faces mounting international criticism over the scale of civilian casualties.

The conflict in Gaza, triggered by Hamas’s attack on 7 October which saw 1,200 people killed and 240 more taken hostage, has flattened much of northern Gaza and has driven 85% of the territory’s population of 2.3 million from their homes.

Meanwhile, aid groups have warned of a spiralling humanitarian crisis as the bombardment continues.

Last weekend, the United Nations General Assembly held a vote in which 153 out of 193 members supported a ceasefire in Gaza. The US voted against the move, while the UK abstained.

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10 Tory MPs call for Gaza ceasefire

On Sunday Lord Cameron called for a “sustainable ceasefire” in the escalating conflict in a move that added to growing global pressure on Israel.

The foreign secretary said “too many civilians have been killed” and urged Israel to do more to “discriminate sufficiently between terrorists and civilians, ensuring its campaign targets Hamas leaders and operatives”.

His language strongly echoed that of US President Joe Biden, who described Israel’s bombing in Gaza following the Hamas terrorist attack on 7 October as “indiscriminate”.

However, Lord Cameron stopped short of calling for an immediate ceasefire, something that has been a recurring demand by pro-Palestinian campaigners as the death count in Gaza continues to grow.

MPs ‘dismayed’ by UK’s UN stance

The Tory group of MPs who wrote to Mr Sunak said they were “dismayed” that the UK abstained on the UN resolution calling for a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza when allies including France, Canada and Australia supported it.

Paul Bristow, the Tory MP for Peterborough who was sacked from his government post in October for calling for a ceasefire and who signed the letter, told Sky News’s Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge that on top of the 10 MPs who had written to Lord Cameron, there were “many more behind the scenes” who wanted the UK to push for that outcome.

The letter followed an article from former defence secretary Ben Wallace who warned at the weekend that Israel risked losing its “legal” and “moral” authority if it continued with its “killing rage” in Gaza as he appealed to all sides to pursue a two-state solution.

Asked about Mr Wallace’s article during a trip to Scotland, Rishi Sunak said that while Israel “obviously has a right to defend itself against what was an appalling terrorist attack perpetrated by Hamas… it must do that in accordance with humanitarian law”.

“It’s clear that too many civilian lives have been lost and nobody wants to see this conflict go on a day longer than it has to,” the prime minister added.

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‘Too many civilian lives lost’ in Gaza

Elsewhere in the letter to the foreign secretary, the 10 Conservative MPs went on to warn that the risk of disease and starvation was “imminent” as the Palestinian population is “kettled into ever smaller areas”.

“By any measure we are witnessing a catastrophe of precisely the kind the 1949 Geneva Conventions were supposed to prevent. As such, it is unconscionable that we should make Gaza an exception to the rules and obligations those accords created,” the letter by the MPs said.

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The MPs added they had all “privately expressed our anguish and dismay at the position taken by His Majesty’s government following the terrible atrocities of 7 October”.

“We said we did not believe it was in the United Kingdom’s or Israel’s best long-term interests for them to flatten Gaza and massacre innocent Palestinians in pursuit of Hamas, nor that there was a viable military solution to dealing with such a terrorist organisation and to securing the urgent return of Israeli hostages,” they wrote.

The letter added: “On the contrary, the brutalisation of the civilian Palestinian population is sure to lead to more extremism in the future.

“Furthermore, it is increasingly clear that the Israeli military strategy is neither proportionate nor targeted and that there is no serious prospect of success, whatever that might mean.”

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