Rafah incursion would struggle to comply with international law, says Mitchell

Britain has warned an Israeli incursion into Rafah will struggle to be compliant with international law, amid pleas for Hamas to accept a ceasefire package.

Deputy foreign secretary Andrew Mitchell voiced concerns about the current situation as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to launch an offensive into the Gaza city sheltering hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

Negotiations between Israel and Hamas over a ceasefire agreement have been taking place, with the conflict between the two sides nearing seven months.

On Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu said Israel would enter Rafah to destroy Hamas’s battalions there “with or without a deal”.

Speaking at Foreign Office questions, Workers Party of Britain MP George Galloway (Rochdale) told the Commons: “We are hours away from a bloodbath that will make Fallujah pale into insignificance, that will be the worst bloodbath seen in the world since the Second World War.

“1.6 million people, most of them women and children, are 72 hours away from a full-scale invasion. The minister keeps saying we’re going to press Israel – what are you going to do about it if it happens?”

Rochdale by-election
George Galloway spoke at Foreign Office questions (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Mitchell replied: “Given the number of civilians sheltering in Rafah, it’s not easy to see how such an offensive could be compliant with international humanitarian law in the current circumstances.

“On the overall point, I hope he will recognise that the British Government is doing everything (it) can to prevent the circumstances which he described.”

Earlier in the session, Labour joined the Government in urging Hamas to accept the ceasefire package.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said: “More than 30,000 Palestinians are dead, more than 100 Israeli hostages are still unaccounted for and Gaza is facing famine. The war must end now with an immediate ceasefire; that needs both sides to agree.

“It was Hamas, not Israel, which rejected the last internationally brokered ceasefire deal. Now a new offer is on the table. Hamas has the power now to stop the fighting.

“Does the minister agree with me that Hamas should accept this deal and avert a catastrophic continuation of this war?”

Mr Mitchell replied: “Yes, he makes a very good point and although these negotiations are fluid at the moment, he is right to say that Hamas should accept the deal that has been put on the table.”

Conservative MP Sir Julian Lewis, who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, renewed his appeal for the UK Government to rule out deploying British troops on the ground to assist Gaza aid efforts.

He said: “Will the deputy foreign secretary take the message back to his boss that the insertion of British troops on the ground in Gaza will simply play into the hands of those who wish to further divert attention away from the existential conflict between Russia and Ukraine?”

Mr Mitchell stressed the Government is “absolutely committed” to helping Ukraine, although he did not make reference to reports the UK Government is considering deploying troops into Gaza to land humanitarian supplies from a temporary pier currently being built by the United States military.

On Monday, Sir Julian said British boots on the ground in Gaza would be a “completely insane idea”.

Elsewhere in the session, MPs called on Mr Mitchell to disclose when the UK Government will take a decision on future funding to a UN agency supplying aid in Gaza.

The UK and other nations halted funding amid an investigation into allegations that some of the agency’s workers colluded with Hamas, though some have since restored their cashflow.

Mr Mitchell said he had looked at a report into the allegations and spoke about the matter with the UN Secretary-General in New York on Monday.

He added: “We are waiting for the OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) report, which we expect to hear about soon, and we will then reach our conclusions on the best way of getting aid into Gaza.”