Israel will be judged at later date on compliance with global rules – minister

A Cabinet minister said it will be judged at a “later date” whether Israel has complied with international law in its fightback against Hamas.

Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said it was not for her to say whether global rules were being broken in Gaza, with 8,000 Palestinians reported to have died during Israeli strikes.

She said the UK continues to “call for a pause” in the violence to allow aid into the region and permit people to leave.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s administration has stopped short of demanding an outright ceasefire.

Layla Moran, a Liberal Democrat MP who has family trapped in Gaza, accused the UK and its allies of “failing” in their diplomatic approach to the conflict.

Israeli ground forces, including tank columns, pushed into Gaza over the weekend as Tel Aviv’s military continued to pound the Hamas-ruled territory from air, land and sea.

Bombardments knocked out communications in the 25-mile strip late on Friday – a blackout that followed an Israeli blockade on water, food, fuel and other essentials reaching 2.3 million Palestinians who are effectively trapped.

Communications were restored to many people in Gaza early on Sunday, according to local reports.

Ms Donelan, asked on Sky News’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips programme whether the UK Government was confident Tel Aviv had obeyed international law, said: “I’m not an international lawyer and it is not in my jurisdiction to make that decision.

“Those judgments will be made in due course, based on all of the evidence.

“It is a fast-paced environment, things are happening that we aren’t even aware of on the ground.

“Those judgments and views will be made at a later date by the relevant and appropriate bodies.”

Michelle Donelan
Cabinet Secretary Michelle Donelan said the UK has not set ‘red lines’ for Israel (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

The senior Conservative said the UK has not set Israel any so-called “red lines” in the conflict as she argued rules governing war situations were “well established”.

Hamas’s deadly raids on Israel on October 7 killed 1,400 people, mainly civilians, and Palestinian militants took more than 200 people hostage.

In retaliation over the past three weeks, Tel Aviv has besieged the Occupied Palestinian Territory and pummelled it with bombs as Israel’s leadership vowed to eradicate Hamas.

Around 8,000 Palestinians have died since the war began, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, with most said to be women and children.

Ms Donelan said the preservation of civilian life is a “priority” for the UK but Hamas is using the Palestinian people as “human shields” and putting them in harm’s way by building tunnels underneath houses.

“It is very difficult to get to Hamas without hurting innocent civilians,” she told Sky.

But after telling the BBC the Government is still arguing for a pause in the fighting, Ms Donelan faced criticism from Ms Moran, the Lib Dem foreign affairs spokeswoman who has extended family in Gaza.

Ms Moran said it is “deeply offensive” for the minister to suggest it is Hamas preventing people such as her Palestinian Christian family, who are currently sheltering in a church, from leaving northern Gaza when there is “nowhere” safe in the territory due to Israeli shelling.

Speaking to Victoria Derbyshire on the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme, she said: “When I hear from the Government that they want to minimise civilians casualties, I have to say to them that they are failing – the strategy of the UK Government, America, and what they are effectively sanctioning in the way that Israel is responding.

“Israel has every right to respond and I agree that if it was us, we would respond too, but how they respond is so important because at the end of this, we want to get to a point where we don’t see this kind of carnage ever again.

“We need to get to that two-state solution, that is what we need to aim for.”

Ms Moran is calling for a humanitarian ceasefire which gives “political space” to “take the temperature down” following “escalatory language from the Israeli government” and allows for peace talks to begin.

Further pro-Palestinian demonstrations demanding a ceasefire are expected to take place in the UK on Sunday, with a march planned in Bristol.

Israel-Hamas conflict
Protesters during a pro-Palestinian rally in Belfast (Claudia Savage/PA)

It follows protests on Saturday in London, Glasgow, Manchester and Belfast.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said about 100 people had been arrested at demonstrations held since the Hamas attack on Israel three weeks ago, with “many more” arrests expected in the near future.

Nine people were arrested in central London during a mainly peaceful pro-Palestine demonstration on Saturday, with at least 100,000 thought to have attended.

Seven of the arrests were alleged public order offences, a number of which are being treated as hate crimes, while two were for suspected assaults on officers.

Five people have since been charged, the Met said on Sunday. One incident related to a placard being displayed which was threatening and racist in nature near Piccadilly Circus, police said.

The Met also posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday that two women had been arrested on suspicion of inciting racial hatred following an incident in Trafalgar Square on Saturday.

It follows alleged chanting that referenced the Battle of Khaybar – a massacre of Jews in 628 by Islamic forces.

Officers also followed up on reports that a pamphlet was being sold along the route of the march that praised Hamas, the force confirmed on social media.

Hamas is a proscribed terror organisation in the UK, with expressions of support for it banned.

Sir Mark told Sky his officers are limited by legal definitions of extremism and arresting people without cause could risk “inflaming” the situation with the protesters.

He said he would support a review into the legal definition of extremism and how it should be policed.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove is understood to have ordered officials to draw up a new official definition of extremism in a move designed to counter hate, including antisemitism.

His Cabinet colleague Ms Donelan argued that current laws for dealing with extremism are “robust enough” but said the definition is kept under “constant review”.