UK government reiterates Hamas responsibility in escalation of violence

Foreign Secretary William Hague used a statement in parliament on Tuesday to reiterate the UK government's view that Hamas should bear the principal responsibility for the escalation in violence in Gaza over the past week. The statement came as Israel announced it was suspending plans for a ground operation to allow talks in Egypt to take place to secure a truce.

"We have made clear both that Hamas bears principal responsibility for the start of the current crisis, but also that all sides have responsibilities," he said. "We quickly called on Israel to seek every opportunity to de-escalate their military response, and to observe international humanitarian law and avoid civilian casualties. At the meeting I attended in Brussels yesterday EU Foreign Ministers condemned the rocket attacks on Israel and called for an urgent de-escalation and cessation of hostilities."

Mr Hague urged Israel not to embark on a ground offensive and give time to let negotiations bear fruit: "We have also warned that a ground invasion of Gaza could lengthen the conflict, sharply increase civilian casualties, and erode international support for Israel’s position.

"We wish to see an agreed ceasefire that stops the rocket attacks against Israel and ends Israeli military operations."

Middle East Minister Alistair Burt arrived in Israel for talks on the crisis in Gaza on Monday and immediately headed for Kiryat Malachi in southern Israel to visit a family bereaved in a Hamas missile attack. During a three-day visit he also met members of the Israeli government and UN officials and local NGOs to discuss the humanitarian situation in Gaza. He also blamed Hamas for provoking the crisis and urged it cease the rocket attacks on Israel immediately.

"Today I have seen for myself the impact of this conflict, and the terrible toll and suffering it is inflicting on families and communities across Israel," he said. "Coming here has given me a sense of what life is like for people under attack, and the appalling devastation that rockets attacks bring. The people in villages, towns and cities across Israel have the right to live without the constant fear of rocket attacks."

"The UK calls on Hamas, who bear principal responsibility for starting this round of violence, to stop the rocket attacks. Doing so would bring the violence most quickly to an end. But there are also responsibilities on Israel and, as the number of casualties in Gaza increases, we continue to urge Israel to do all it can to de-escalate the situation, to minimise civilian casualties, and to give mediation efforts a chance to succeed."

Meanwhile, David Cameron and Mr Hague concentrated their efforts on Egypt. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary offered their full support to the Egyptian Government in their efforts to mediate a ceasefire.

Mr Hague told the BBC Today programme on Friday: "The biggest contribution to ending this would be for Hamas to stop launching the rockets and then to take control where other people are launching rockets at Israel. But we do stress – and the Prime Minister has stressed this when he spoke to the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr Netanyahu, last night – that we do want Israel also to take every opportunity to de-escalate... and Israel does have to bear in mind that it is when ground invasions have taken place in previous conflicts that they have lost international support and a great deal of sympathy around the world. So... there is a cautionary lesson from previous ground invasions on that”.

Last updated: 12:01pm, November 21 2012