Rishi Sunak swerves growing calls for Britain to suspend arms sales to Israel after deaths of three British veterans manning an aid convoy in Gaza - but PM warns Benjamin Netanyahu over 'increasingly intolerable' conflict

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Rishi Sunak today swerved growing calls for Britain to suspend arms sales to Israel amid outrage at the deaths of three British veterans in Gaza.

John Chapman, 57, James 'Jim' Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47, were working for a charity's security team when they were killed by an Israeli air strike on Monday.

There has been global fury at Israel following the 'outrageous' strike on an aid convoy of three cars, which were marked as working for the World Central Kitchen charity.

Amid the outcry, a number of MPs and an ex-national security adviser have urged Mr Sunak to suspend arms sales to Israel over fears it is ignoring humanitarian law.

Asked about those calls in an interview with The Sun, the PM stressed Britain would continue to follow its 'careful export licensing regime'.

He added he had been 'consistently clear' with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel must act in accordance with international humanitarian law.

Mr Sunak did not deny his phone call with Mr Netanyahu in the wake of Monday's killing of three British nationals was a 'testy' exchange.

He said he had warned the Israeli leader that the situation in Gaza was becoming 'increasingly intolerable'.

Rishi Sunak, in an interview with The Sun, swerved growing calls for Britain to suspend arms sales to Israel amid outrage at the deaths of three British veterans in Gaza

The PM did not deny his phone call with Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of Monday's killing of three British nationals was a 'testy' exchange

There has been global fury at Israel following the 'outrageous' strike on an aid convoy of three cars, which were marked as working for the World Central Kitchen charity

(Left to right) John Chapman, James 'Jim' Henderson and James Kirby, were among aid workers killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza on Monday

Mr Chapman, Mr Henderson and Mr Kirby were all former members of Britain's Armed Forces, with their deaths described as a 'grave mistake' by Israel.

Mr Sunak hailed the trio as 'brave Brits who were actually risking their lives to bring aid to people in need in Gaza' and said their deaths were an 'awful, awful tragedy'.

'I spoke to PM Netanyahu last night and was very clear with him that the situation is increasingly intolerable and what we urgently need to see is a through transparent investigation into what has happened,' the PM said.

'But also a dramatic increase in the amount of aid getting into Gaza removing the barriers but also closer work with aid agencies to make sure things like this don't happen again.'

Asked about growing calls for Britain to stop selling arms to Israel, Mr Sunak replied: 'I think we've always had a very careful export licensing regime that we adhere to.

There are a set of rules, regulations and procedures that will always follow, and I have been consistently clear with PM Netanyahu since the start of this conflict that while of course we defend Israel's right to defend itself and its people against attacks from Hamas, they have to do that in accordance with international humanitarian law, protect civilian lives and sadly too many civilians have already lost their lives.

'Get more aid into Gaza. That's what we've consistently called for and what we want to see actually is an immediate humanitarian pause to allow more aid in and crucially the hostages to be released, and that's what we'll continue to push for.'

Quizzed about whether he had held a 'testy' phone call with Mr Netanyahu, the PM responded: 'What's happened is a tragedy and it shouldnt have happened and there are questions that need answering.'

Alistair Burt (left), a former Middle East minister, and Lord Peter Ricketts, a former national security adviser, both suggested Britain could now suspend arms sales to Israel

Lord Peter Ricketts was the UK's first national security adviser and served under former PM David Cameron, who is now Britain's Foreign Secretary.

The crossbench peer told Sky News: 'I would like to see at this point the UK decide that they are going to suspend arms export licences to Israel.

'I think there is enough now that Israel is, to put it diplomatically, not paying attention to its international humanitarian law obligations to protect civilians, to protect humanitarian workers and medical workers.'

Lord Ricketts suggested a suspension of UK arms sales to Israel could also encourage the US to take similar action.

'I think there is abundant evidence now that Israel hasn't been taking enough care to fulfil its obligations on the safety of civilians, and a country that gets arms from the UK has to comply with international humanitarian law, that is a condition of the arms export licensing policy,' he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

'I think the time has come to send that signal. It won't change the course of the war. 

'It would be a powerful political message, and it might just stimulate debate in the US as well, which would be the real game-changer, if the Americans began to think about putting limits, restrictions on the use of American weapons in Israel.'

He added: 'Sometimes in conflict, you get a moment where there's such global outrage that it crystalises a sense that things can't go on like this.

'And I think – I hope – that this awful incident will serve that purpose.'

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: 'The deaths of these British aid workers in Gaza is an absolute disgrace. These brave people were trying to help starving families in Gaza.

'Clearly, the thought that British-made arms could have been used in strikes such as these is completely unacceptable.

'The Government must take swift action to suspend arms exports to Israel. We must redouble our efforts to secure an immediate bilateral ceasefire.'

Ex-Tory MP Alistair Burt, who served as Middle East minister under both Lord Cameron and Theresa May, said the potential for Britain suspending arms sales to Israel was 'now much higher than it was'.

In his phone call with Mr Netanyahu last night, Mr Sunak warned the situation in Gaza was 'increasingly intolerable' with 'far too many aid workers and ordinary civilians' having been killed.

Mr Burt said the PM's 'uptick in rhetoric' was 'appropriate' following the deaths of British nationals, but added it 'should be accompanied by more pointed questions about the investigation that has been promised into this'.

'The UK is entitled to have some scepticism when it's told there will be an investigation and it should demand that, this time, there's a proper investigation with some degree of accountability,' he told BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight programme.

'So I think the rhetoric needs to have a point, and then there may be further consequences beyond that.'

He added: 'If it turns out that this attack was in any way calculated, that someone took a deliberate decision to aim at an aid convoy, it calls into question humanitarian law and potential breaches of it.

'And that raises the possibility the UK could no longer continue with arms supplies to Israel because legally the UK cannot do so if humanitarian law is being broken.

'So I think the potential for that is now much higher than it was.

'This was a course of action taken by Margaret Thatcher in 1982, by Tony Blair in 2002 - it didn't destroy the relationship with Israel but it was a clear signal there is a point beyond which the UK simply cannot go.'

Labour's Darren Jones suggested the UK halting arms sales would not change the course of the war.

'The fact of the matter is if the UK, for example, stopped supplying arms, the war would not end. What we need to do is get the parties to a position where the fighting can stop,' the shadow Treasury minister told ITV's Good Morning Britain programme.

Speaking as he arrived at a NATO meeting in Brussels this morning, Lord Cameron welcomed Israel's vow to fully investigate the strike on an aid convoy.

The Foreign Secretary told broadcasters: 'I welcome what the Israeli foreign minister said yesterday to me about a full, urgent and transparent inquiry into how this dreadful event was allowed to happen, and we want to see that happen very quickly.

'I also welcome the fact he spoke about much more aid getting into Gaza, up to 500 trucks a day.

'That is essential, we have been promised these things before and it really needs to happen, including longer opening times at the vital crossing points.

'But, of course, the extra aid won't work unless there is proper deconfliction, unless aid can be taken around Gaza and we avoid the dreadful incidents like we have seen in the last couple of days.

'That is vital and Britain will be watching very closely to make sure that that happens.'

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