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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 22 DECEMBER 2023

UK’s Cameron urges a pause in war to allow aid into Gaza; Egypt calls for UN to remain neutral

UK’s Cameron urges a pause in war to allow aid into Gaza; Egypt calls for UN to remain neutral
UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron is expected to take aim at NATO partners for underspending on defence. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Mohamed Hossam)

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron calls for a pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas to allow hostages out and aid to be brought in.

Israel’s campaign to root out Hamas from the Gaza Strip needs to shift from a large-scale military attack to a more precise operation that will reduce the toll on Palestinian civilians, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry warned the United Nations it should appear to be neutral after its Security Council on Wednesday delayed the vote on a new resolution on aid to Gaza.

“The UN should always be unbiased otherwise it will lose its credibility,” he said. “We are a bit astonished that this resolution that we’re talking about wasn’t adopted because this resolution aims to send humanitarian aid to combat a crisis.”

Cameron calls for halt in fighting to allow aid into Gaza

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron called for a pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas on Thursday to allow hostages out and aid to be brought in. 

“We want to see action,” Cameron said in a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo. “We want to see aid come from Jordan, we want to see aid come across maritime routes.”

“In the meantime, I’m all in favour of pauses in the fighting so we can get hostages out and if we can have a pause today to start making that happen no one would be more delighted [than] me,” Cameron added. “I want to see all the hostages released.”

Cameron also reiterated the UK’s longstanding support for a two-state solution in the region and said Britain had made clear to Israel that there should be no permanent occupation of Gaza.

Blinken prods Israel to shift to ‘targeted operations’ in Gaza

Israel’s campaign to root out Hamas from the Gaza Strip needed to shift from a large-scale military attack to a more precise operation that would reduce the toll on Palestinian civilians, the top US diplomat said.

“It’s clear that the conflict will move — and needs to move — to a lower-intensity phase,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Wednesday in Washington.

“And we expect to see, and want to see, a shift to more targeted operations, with a smaller number of forces, that’s really focused in on dealing with the leadership of Hamas, the tunnel network and a few other critical things.” 

Blinken’s comments added fresh weight to Biden administration efforts to prod Israel to end the wide-scale destruction it has conducted in Gaza in response to the 7 October attack by Hamas that Israel says left 1,200 people dead. Almost 19,500 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. 

Yemen’s Houthis vow more attacks on ships in Red Sea 

Yemen’s Houthi rebels vowed to continue targeting ships in the Red Sea despite a US move to compile an international naval task force to protect maritime trade in one of the world’s most important waterways. 

The Iran-backed group also warned Washington it was willing to retaliate if the US opts for military attacks on Houthi bases. 

“We’re seeking to develop our military capabilities to overcome any obstacles and reach our targets,” Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi said in a televised speech on Wednesday. If the US attacks Yemen, “we will target it” by firing missiles and drones at US battleships and other vessels, he added.

The Houthis have looked to disrupt the Red Sea voyages of several fuel tankers and cargo ships, ostensibly in support of the Hamas militant group in its war against Israel. They have stepped up assaults in the past week, roiling shipping markets and helping push up oil prices. Over the weekend, the US and UK navies shot down 15 drones launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

The US was considering military action against the Houthis, though it still prefers a diplomatic solution, Bloomberg has reported. Washington announced on Monday it was working with Western and Arab allies to bolster a maritime protection force meant to secure ships navigating the Red Sea, which carries nearly 12% of global trade.

More than 100 container ships are now taking the long route around Africa to avoid violence, creating extra costs and delays, according to Swiss logistics giant Kuehne+Nagel International. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War
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