David Cameron rules out putting British boots on the ground in Gaza to deliver aid

The foreign secretary feared there would be 'specific targeting of British or American troops' if military personnel were allowed onto Gaza's beaches.

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron arrives at the BBC offices in central London, on May 12, 2024, to appear on the BBC's
Foreign secretary David Cameron said he didn't think sending British troops onto the beaches of Gaza would be a wise move. (Getty Images)

Foreign secretary Lord David Cameron has ruled out suggestions that UK troops could be sent to Gaza via the Mediterranean to assist the delivery of humanitarian aid.

In late April unnamed Whitehall sources told the BBC and Sky News that the UK government was considering sending military personnel to deliver supplies from a temporary pier recently built by the US military.

The Ministry of Defence declined to comment on the reports, but appearing on the BBC's Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme this morning, Cameron said putting British boots on the ground would be “a risk that we shouldn’t take”.

He stressed that the Royal Navy is playing a "very full part" in the delivery of aid from Cyprus, but said he and prime minister Rishi Sunak both agreed that sending troops onto the beach is "not a good move".

"It’s not necessary. There are other people that can do it," Cameron said, adding that he believes the job will "probably" by taken on by a contractor.

Suggesting that the US are not putting their boots on the ground in Gaza for the same reason, Cameron said: “I think there might be specific targeting of British or American troops and so I think it’s a wise decision.”

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A Hamas official told the Associated Press last month that Hamas will resist any foreign military presence involved with the port project. On the same day, United Nations officials were forced to take shelter when the under-construction pier came under fire.

The UK has already been involved in the preparations for the US-led aid operation, with Royal Navy ship RFA Cardigan Bay providing floating accommodation for hundreds of American sailors and soldiers constructing the pier.

British military planning teams have also been embedded at the US operational headquarters in Florida and Cyprus.

The plan to build the pier was announced in March amid international criticism of Israel over a slow supply of aid into Gaza. At the time a senior US official said: "We’re not waiting on the Israelis. This is a moment for American leadership, and we are building a coalition of countries to address this urgent need."

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Cameron said that next week, his envoy on humanitarian aid, Mark Bryson-Richardson, will hold meetings in Israel to discuss "bottlenecks" in Gaza where aid is not getting through.

Kuenssberg responded by saying many countries have tried to boost the delivery of aid by resuming funding to the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

A number of countries including the United States, Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom suspended funding of UNRWA in January following accusations by Israel that 12 staff members participated in the 7 October attacks.

However, a number of countries including Australia, Canada and Sweden, and the European Commission, have since resumed funding, with some pointing towards a lack of hard evidence provided by Israel.

"If you care, as you appear to very passionately about getting aid in, why not turn the taps back on to that aid agency that is on the ground?", Kuenssberg asked Cameron.

The foreign secretary said he is being "a bit more demanding", adding that there have been two reports into the dispute with UNRWA, only one of which has been concluded.

Former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna led an independent review, commissioned by the UN, which found that Israel is yet to provide evidence of its claims of UNRWA workers having ties to Islamic Jihad or Hamas.

Cameron praised Colonna for her work, but said a separate investigation is being carried out by the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services. He added: "They haven't yet completed their report... I want to see both of the reports, and then we'll make our decision after that."

GAZA CITY, GAZA - MAY 12: Thousands of Palestinians left the Jabalia Refugee Camp with the belongings they could take with them, via Al Celaa street in Gaza city, and migrated towards the west of the city after the Israeli army carried out an intense air attack on the Jabalia Refugee Camp and the city of Beit Lahia in the north of the Gaza Strip on May 12, 2024. In addition to leaving the area on foot, Palestinians also leave the area by means of transportation such as tractors, horse carriages and bicycles, passing through damaged buildings. (Photo by Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Thousands of Palestinians left the Jabalia Refugee Camp in northern Gaza after an intense Israeli airstrike in the area. (Getty Images)

The review led by Colonna said that UNRWA regularly supplied Israel with lists of employees for vetting purposes, and that the "Israeli Government has not informed UNRWA of any concerns relating to any UNRWA staff based on these staff lists since 2011".

It noted that unlike UNRWA, Israeli authorities do not consider this system as a screening or vetting process, "but as a standard procedure for the registration of UN and diplomatic staff to ensure their privileges and immunities".

Some concerns are raised in the report about screening, with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs claiming that until March 2024, staff lists were provided without ID numbers.

"On the basis of the March 2024 list, which contained staff ID numbers, Israel made public claims that a significant number of UNRWA employees are members of terrorist organizations. However, Israel has yet to provide supporting evidence of this," the report says.

The report does raise "long-standing concerns over politicization and interlinkages with Palestinian political factions, with a direct impact on UNRWA’s neutrality".

UNRWA’s facilities have sometimes been misused for political or military gains, undermining its neutrality," the report adds.

"If the prevention of and response to the political misuse of UNRWA installations have been efficient, the agency has had more difficulty appropriately addressing the use of its installations for military purposes.

"Preventive measures, enhanced monitoring and transparent reporting are necessary to address this issue effectively."

UNRWA has also raised concerns over attacks on its staff, with its chief, commissioner-general Philippe Lazzarini, announcing on Friday that it would shut down its East Jerusalem headquarters after its compound there was set on fire by "Israeli extremists" while staff were inside.