Hundreds of UK lawyers warn Sunak that Israel is breaching international law in Gaza

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Open letter calls on British government to ‘exert its influence’ to secure a ceasefire in the conflict

Hundreds of lawyers in the UK have signed an open letter warning Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that Israel is breaching international law in its retaliation against Hamas in Gaza.

In total, 260 lawyers have signed the letter to call on Mr Sunak, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Defence Secretary Grant Shapps to “act urgently” so the UK can “fulfil its international legal obligations” in the conflict.

Signatories include 36 King’s Counsel, 49 partners and directors of law firms and 16 law professors.

In the letter, they urge the government to stop the sale of arms to Israel because they may be used in “serious violations” of international humanitarian law.


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The lawyers also call on the government to “exert its influence to press for a ceasefire to allow aid into Gaza”.

Israel, which is preparing to launch a ground invasion to the Palestinian enclave, has struck the strip repeatedly from the air following Hamas‘s surprise attack on October 7, which killed at least 1,400 people, mostly civilians.

More than 7,000 people in Gaza have since been killed in retaliatory strikes, its Health Ministry said.

“We are moved to intervene because, in a region already accustomed to great suffering, the death and other harm visited on individuals, families and whole communities in the last 20 days has been truly terrible,” the letter said.

“The starvation of a civilian population as a method of warfare, including wilfully impeding adequate relief supplies, as Israel is doing in Gaza, is strictly prohibited under customary international law … and constitutes a war crime.

“Hamas’s war crimes cannot be justified by reference to prior war crimes by Israel; neither do they justify further such crimes by Israel in its response, which must comply with international law.”

The letter also says that, according to international law, the UK must not encourage, aid or assist others in breaching the law.

The latest from the Israel-Gaza war – in pictures

Palestinians check the damage at the site of Israeli strikes on houses in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters
Israeli soldiers and military vehicles near the border with Gaza. EPA
Palestinians injured in Israeli air raids arrive at Nasser Medical Hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza. Getty Images
Protesters call for a ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas since the October 7 attack. AFP
The protest was held near the headquarters of the Israeli Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv. AFP
Smoke and flames rise from buildings after an Israeli strike on Gaza City. AFP
Destruction in Gaza City after an Israeli air strike. AFP
A wounded Palestinian is taken into Al Shifa hospital after Israeli air strikes on Gaza City. AP
Israelis at a cemetery in Holon during a funeral take cover as a siren warns of incoming rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. AP
Posters of hostages abducted by Hamas form part of an installation consisting of 224 light pillars erected by the Jerusalem municipality outside Teddy Stadium. AFP
Supporters of Palestine hold a rally in New York's financial district to demand that American financial institutions stop financing weapons manufacturing. AFP
Army rescue crews assess the damage after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a building in Rishon LeTsiyon, Israel. Getty Images
Israeli strikes as seen from a tent camp sheltering displaced Palestinians. Reuters
Israeli armoured vehicles take part in an operation, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues, at a location given as the northern Gaza Strip. Reuters
A Palestinian man is comforted as he mourns the death of his daughter and his wife, who were killed by Israeli strikes. Reuters
Satellite view of damaged areas in the Beit Hanoun district of Gaza as a result of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Reuters
Beit Hanoun was hit by Israeli missiles. Reuters
Two brothers on a stretcher after being rescued from beneath the rubble of a destroyed area in Gaza. EPA
Israeli security forces gather along a cordoned-off street where an apartment building was hit by a rocket fired from Gaza, in Rishon LeZion, near Tel Aviv. AFP
Rescuers in front of an apartment building hit by a rocket in the Israeli city of Rishon LeZion. AFP
Red Crescent Society employees and volunteers handle humanitarian aid bound for Gaza at a warehouse in Arish, Egypt. EPA
Men lower one of the coffins during the funeral of British-Israelis Lianne Sharabi and her daughters Noiya Sharabi, 16, and Yahel Sharabi, 13, in Kfar Harif, Israel. EPA
An Israeli soldier in a ruined house in the kibbutz of Beeri, near the border with Gaza. EPA
The aftermath of wide-scale strikes, which Israel says struck Hamas emergency operational apparatus, including war rooms, infrastructure and military headquarters, in Gaza. Reuters
Palestinians search for casualties after Israeli attacks on houses in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters
Rescuers look for casualties in Khan Younis. Reuters
Palestinian Ali Daba and his wife have separated their children and given them bracelets to help identify them in case they are killed in Israeli strikes. Their daughter shows her bracelet at their shelter in Khan Younis. Reuters
In Tel Aviv, teddy bears with their eyes covered and signs of injury go on show to highlight the young children and babies missing, believed to be being held by Hamas. Getty
Palestinians near the rubble of a building following overnight Israeli strikes on the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP
Members of the Palestine Red Crescent Society distribute aid in Deir Al Balah, in the Gaza Strip. Reuters
Pro-Israel, left, and pro-Palestine protesters face off during a demonstration in reaction to the Gaza conflict, in central Atlanta, Georgia. EPA
Orit Meir, the mother of Almog Meir Jan who was taken hostage by Hamas while attending the Nova festival in Israel, at the family's home in Or Yehuda. Reuters
A soldier puts on protective gear in Ramle, Israel, as he prepares to identify those killed by Hamas during the October 7 attack. Getty Images
Palestinians wounded in Israeli air strikes arrive at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza. Getty Images
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, centre, speaks with the father of one of the hostages held by Hamas, before a UN Security Council meeting in New York. EPA
French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attend a meeting in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah. EPA
Survivors of Israel's bombardment of Gaza being treated at a trauma ward at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis. AFP
Smoke rises after an air strike on Gaza, as seen from southern Israel. Reuters
A woman holds placards identifying one of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas during a demonstration in Tel Aviv. AFP

Palestinians check the damage at the site of Israeli strikes on houses in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters

It comes after EU leaders called for “continued, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access and aid to reach those in need”.

Mr Sunak said on Thursday that he was pushing for a pause in the fighting between Israel and militants to allow aid to reach Palestinians and also create a “safer environment” for UK citizens to leave the besieged enclave.

Leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, has also backed calls for a humanitarian pause, as opposed to a full ceasefire, which the government has said would benefit Hamas.

But many members of Mr Starmer’s party have urged him to go further, with about a quarter of Labour MPs, including two front-benchers, publicly calling for a ceasefire.

On Friday, the Education Secretary said ministers are continuing to resist calls for a ceasefire in the Middle East, but the UK is “reliant on” a humanitarian pause in the conflict to get support into the region.

Gillian Keegan said the government needs to “ensure” that there is a break in fighting in order to get aid into Gaza and allow British citizens to leave the bombarded 25-mile strip.

Asked why ministers would not call for a cessation of violence, Ms Keegan told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that the Government would not want to “cross that line of telling Israel it has anything but the right to defend itself”.

“Hamas have created this situation and Hamas are now embedding themselves in the Palestinian population,” she said.

She said that facilitating any humanitarian pause would in itself be “very difficult” and the UK would be “reliant on” it being observed.

“It’s operationally very difficult and that’s why we’ve sent a plane-load of aid, it’s why we’ve sent Border Force, it’s why we’ve got people there, our International Development Secretary has been working with a lot of people in the region to make sure that we’re prepared to be able to get this aid to the right place,” she said.

The Foreign Office has said it was in contact with about 200 UK citizens in Gaza.

“We’re very keen to be able to bring them out and bring them home,” Mr Sunak said.

“What I can tell you is we’ve pre-positioned Border Force teams to Egypt. So that if there is a possibility for our nationals to cross the Rafah crossing, we’re ready to get them in and bring them back.”

The lawyers who signed the letter include former chairman of the General Council of the Bar of Northern Ireland, Brian Fee, former chairman of the Criminal Bar Association of England and Wales, Andrew Hall, and former Counsel General for Wales, Theodore Huckle.

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