LONDON: Israel must respect “the sanctity of hospitals” in Gaza and allow them to be places of safety during its offensive in the Palestinian territory, a UK foreign minister said on Tuesday (Nov 14).
“All parties to a conflict must afford civilians the protection that is their right under international law,” Andrew Mitchell, a minister in Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), told members of parliament.
“That includes respecting the sanctity of hospitals so that doctors can continue to care for the sick and injured,” he added.
Israel has bombarded Gaza relentlessly and sent in ground troops since an attack by Hamas militants in southern Israel on Oct 7.
Some 1,200 people were killed and 240 kidnapped in the Hamas attack, Israeli officials say.
The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says Israel’s military response has killed 11,240 people, also mostly civilians, including thousands of children.
Gaza’s main Al-Shifa hospital, which has been a shelter for those displaced by the fighting, has been forced to bury scores of dead patients in a mass grave after continuous Israeli bombardment, according to its director.
Aid organisations have said a full ceasefire is needed to get help to civilians in Gaza wounded in Israeli bombardments, and to transport crucial aid to the 2.4 million people living in the densely populated, besieged territory.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that a ceasefire without the release of the hostages would mean “surrender to Hamas”.
The UK government has backed that stance.
But Mitchell said it was “impossible to comprehend the pain and loss that innocent Palestinians are enduring in Gaza” since Israel launched its offensive.
“Hospitals … should be places of safety, able to treat patients with compassion,” he added.
“It is distressing to see them unable to do so. Every civilian death is heartbreaking.”
Mitchell said that while Israel has a right to defend itself “against this terrorist threat”, it must act within international law.
It must take every precaution to minimise civilian casualties, limiting attacks to military targets, the minister added.
“At the same time, we should be under no illusions Hamas has chosen to embed itself within the civilian population,” he added.
“Their willingness to sacrifice innocent Palestinians in this way only brings home their inhumanity. Alleviating the suffering is our foremost priority.”