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Committee Members report back on conditions in Gaza

21 February 2024

Members of the International Development Committee have visited Al-Arish in the Sinai desert, Egypt. Co-ordinated by the Egyptian Red Crescent, the area is now operating as the logistics hub for all aid - including from the UK - destined for the tightly controlled crossing into Gaza. The area also houses a large hospital to support injured Palestinians, which the MPs visited.

The Committee heard concerns from multiple sources that Israel intends to press ahead with a full-scale offensive in Rafah, the area they had previously designated as the last ‘safe zone’ in Gaza. Leaflets telling civilians they have two weeks to leave have already been dropped. Well over half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million are now sheltering in Rafah - which previously housed less than 300,000. Many of these people have been internally displaced multiple times, after following sequential Israeli instructions to move to ‘safe areas’. Rafah has now been subject to repeated aerial bombardment, inflicting further casualties and destroying more of the infrastructure needed for access and deployment of desperately needed food, water and medical aid.

Speaking on their return from Al-Arish, Chair of the Committee Sarah Champion MP said:

“Nothing that has been reported braces you for the true scale of the horror in Gaza. We’re simply not getting accurate information about the levels of destruction and brutality.

“Listening to seasoned humanitarians tell us that what they’ve witnessed in Gaza makes it the worse disaster they've ever seen really brought home the savagery befalling civilians. Aid workers repeatedly questioned why international law wasn’t being followed or upheld in relation to civilians, humanitarians and medics.

“They also expressed a deep feeling of dread and inevitability of Israeli forces carrying out their threat to escalate the assault into Rafah. A senior aid worker described Rafah as water in the bottom of a glass with the pressure getting more and more intense.

“We learned about the lawlessness in Gaza, with Hamas police being killed and civilians getting increasingly desperate. Personally I fear that unless something happens to stabilise the situation, the remaining UN support will withdraw leaving Palestinians utterly alone.

“Politicians around the world need to demand an immediate end to the violence, full access for aid and a long term strategy to rebuild Gaza; both its infrastructure and its society.”

Since October 7th the IDC has held two evidence hearings in Parliament with aid agencies working on the ground in Gaza, hearing shocking and horrifying evidence of the desperate and deteriorating humanitarian and healthcare situation there. The WHO estimates that less than one third of hospitals remain partially functioning and are often now staffed by volunteers.

In response to questions from the Committee, the Foreign Secretary has sent a summary of UK operations to alleviate the medical emergency in Gaza.

The Foreign Secretary makes clear that the first priority is for Israel to “participate in and respect” the UN system for deconfliction of both static zones and the safe movement of humanitarian staff and goods. He also sets out the UK’s position and conditions for the ultimate goal of achieving a sustainable, permanent ceasefire – including the political, “credible and irreversible” pathway to a two-state solution.

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