Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has been accused of posturing over the issue of arms sales to Israel as simmering tensions within the coalition over the Government’s policy on Gaza boiled over.
Conservative former foreign office Minister Alistair Burt said Mr Clegg was trying to pretend Liberal Democrats had nothing to do with approving exports to Israel when in fact they had to be signed off by his party colleague, Business Secretary Vince Cable.
Earlier the Lib Dem leader and MP for Sheffield Hallam stepped up his calls for a suspension of all arms export licences to Israel, warning it would be “wholly wrong” for sales of weaponry to continue if there was any breakdown in the current ceasefire.
However, Mr Burt said that, by law, no arms should be going from Britain to Israel which could be used for internal repression and that those sales which were permitted had to be signed off by both Mr Cable and by the Foreign Secretary.
“For the Liberals to pretend that it is the Conservative end of the Government that exports arms to anyone and the Liberal Democrats are immune from this is a little bit of sophistry,” he said.
His intervention reflected the growing strains within the coalition over the Government’s position on Gaza following the resignation of foreign office Minister Baroness Warsi, over David Cameron’s refusal to take a tougher line with Israel.
Downing Street has said that no new licences will be issued in relation to Israel and that existing ones will be reviewed, although it has so far resisted demands for a blanket suspension.
But Mr Clegg said yesterday: “I think it is crystal clear that it would be unacceptable to the British people and wholly wrong for us to do anything other than immediately suspend any existing licences if that ceasefire was to come to an end and violence was to break out again.”
The Tory chairman of the Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls, Sir John Stanley, sought to maintain pressure on Ministers, writing to Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond yesterday with a demand to know when the licence review will be completed and for details of items used by Israel in Gaza.
The UK’s major aid agencies are today announcing plans to ramping up a huge humanitarian relief effort in Gaza by taking advantage of the current ceasefire to help hundreds of thousands of people in need.
The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) said agencies are using the temporary truce to supply clean water, food, household items, emergency shelter and medical supplies,.
The rapid scale-up of the aid effort comes as the DEC today launched its Gaza Crisis Appeal including a televised advert which all of the UK’s main broadcasters have agreed to show.
DEC chief executive Saleh Saeed said: “There is a major humanitarian crisis and the need in Gaza is huge. Hundreds of thousands of people have left their homes, and whilst many are now returning the situation they are returning to is very grave. They have limited access to even the most basic human needs including food and water. The healthcare system is on the verge of collapse.”
International Development Secretary Justine Greening yesterday announced the Government will match public donations to appeal up to a total of £2 million.
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