Stephen Crabb, the Conservative Friends of Israel chair, has accused Hamas of “manipulating the citizens of Gaza” following the deaths of more than more than 50 Palestinians in bitter clashes with the IDF today.
Mr Crabb spoke out over what he described as the “very disturbing scenes” on the border between Gaza and Israel telling the JC: “It is clear there is a concerted effort going on to try and breach the border.
“Hamas are manipulating the citizens of Gaza into the kind of actions we have been seeing and they are blatantly encouraging acts of terror and are seeking to bring chaos and terror and death onto Israeli soil.”
Mr Crabb, who took over from Sir Eric Pickles as chair of the key Westminster campaign group last September, said of television coverage of Monday’s clashes in Gaza: “Clearly when you see such loss of life it is very distressing.”
But asked if he believed condemnation should also be made of the continued use of live ammunition by the IDF he insisted: “From a CFI perspective we recognise the responsibility the Israeli government has to defends its own citizens, the legitimacy of the right to defend itself.
“It is the case that no other government on earth gets more demands and requests from other members of the international community to always demonstrate they are taking steps to avoid unnecessary human casualties.
“Every single time there is an attack on Israel, whether through terrorism or concerted military action across borders, or the kind of incidents we have seen on the Gazan borders in recent weeks, the international community is very quick to demand that the Israeli government demonstrates it’s taking all steps possible to avoid human suffering.
“I would imagine colleagues of mine in the British government, in the Foreign Office are making these requests now.”
Mr Crabb said CFI did not take a position on whether the UK government should follow the lead shown by President Donald Trump and move its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
Earlier today, Theresa May’s spokesman had issued a statement saying there was no plan to move the embassy and recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital before a final status agreement with the Palestinians.
But Mr Crabb said: “From a personal perspective, which I think is shared by a good number of my colleagues, there are many good reasons for having an embassy in a capital city.
“You get better access to the nation’s decision-makers – you get the feel of political and cultural life of a nation far better. But there isn’t a huge demand in the House of Commons for Britain to follow suit.
“We are obviously watching with interest and quite understand and have sympathy with the decision the American government has made.”
Asked about concern that President Trump was now moving American policy in a direction that was different to that of the UK, France and Germany, Mr Crabb said: “In an ideal world members of the international community would be united on all their positions –America, the EU, the wider NATO membership.
“But just having consensus doesn’t mean you achieve effective things. President Trump was elected, rightly or wrongly with a mandate from the American people to be a disrupter. That is what he is proving to be.
“The British government will want to tread much more cautiously but what I will say is we must judge President Trump by the fruit of what emerges.
“If he can make progress with the Middle East peace plan, or he can continue to develop new alliances in the Middle East, a new alignment of responsible forces in the Middle East, then I think he will have made a positive contribution overall in that region overall.”
Mr Crabb also admitted he was buoyed last week by the UK government’s speedy defence of Israel’s right to defend itself in the face of Iranian military attacks from bases in Syria.
“I was very pleased that Boris Johnson and the Prime Minister were so quick to explicitly defend Israeli actions defending its own citizens against those awful attacks in the Golan Heights.
“It’s a core position of CFI to keep stating and restating Israel’s right to defend its citizens.”
Emily Thornberry, Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary, issued a statement in which she said: “We condemn unreservedly the Israeli government for their brutal, lethal and utterly unjustified actions on the Gaza border, and our thoughts are with all those Palestinians in Gaza whose loved ones have been killed or injured as a result.
“We urge the Israeli forces serving on the Gaza border to show some long-overdue responsibility to their fellow human beings, and stop this vicious and utterly avoidable slaughter of peaceful protesters demanding the right to return to their homes.”