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Pause in Gaza fighting leading to ceasefire ‘in reach’: Mitchell

Pa
Wednesday, Feb 28, 2024

LONDON: A pause in the conflict in Gaza that could pave the way for a sustained ceasefire is “in reach right now”, Andrew Mitchell has said.

The Foreign Office minister urged both the Israelis and Hamas to seize the opportunity to end the fighting.The Government’s signal that a pause may be near comes after US President Joe Biden suggested a ceasefire deal could be reached as soon as next week.

The President said Israel would be willing to halt its war on Hamas in Gaza during the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, but only if a deal is reached to release some of the hostages held by the militants.

Mr Mitchell, who acts as Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron’s deputy in the Commons, said: “The most effective way to end the fighting in Gaza, the absolute focus of our diplomatic efforts right now, is to agree an immediate humanitarian pause.

“This would allow for the safe release of hostages and a significant increase in the aid going to Gaza.“Crucially, it would also provide a vital opportunity to establish the conditions for a genuinely long-term and sustainable ceasefire without a return to destruction, fighting and loss of life.

“That is the position shared by our close partners. It is an outcome that we believe is in reach right now and we urge all sides to seize it.”His words were echoed by the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, who described the route to a pause as “challenging”, but added: “We do want to see an immediate humanitarian pause to allow the safe release of hostages and see a significant increase in the aid going into Gaza, which would then lead to a genuinely long-term and sustainable ceasefire.”

In a message to critics of the Government’s decision not to call for an immediate ceasefire, Mr Mitchell said: “We do not believe that doing so, hoping it somehow becomes permanent, is the way forward. Simply calling for a ceasefire will not make it happen.

“There is a different and better way to stop the fighting permanently. To push for a pause, and then in that pause secure the sustainable ceasefire that can hold for the longer term without a return to the fighting.”

Mr Mitchell shared the Government’s grounds for how such a ceasefire could hold, listing the need for Hamas to release all hostages, as well as the removal of the militant group’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel.

The minister said lasting peace would also mean that Hamas is no longer in charge of Gaza, with a new Palestinian government for both that territory and the West Bank, as part of a “political horizon which provides a credible and irreversible pathway towards a two-state solution”.

Mr Mitchell also aired the Government’s concerns about the humanitarian crisis facing Palestinian civilians, calling for aid to be “rapidly and significantly scaled up”, as well as for more crossing points into Gaza to be opened.

On Israel’s looming plans for an offensive of Rafah, he added: “We have expressed our deep concern about the prospects of a military incursion into Rafah and its consequences.“Over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering in the area, including more than 600,000 children.

“They have nowhere to go and the Rafah crossing remains vital to ensure aid can reach the people who so desperately need it.” Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy meanwhile called for the Government to push Israel to renew the visas of humanitarian aid workers in Gaza to ensure aid flows “unimpeded”.

Mr Lammy told MPs: “The Association of International Development Agencies tells me that visas for 100 humanitarian workers in Gaza and the West Bank have expired or are about to expire, with no humanitarian visa renewals since the outbreak of this war, leaving humanitarian workers facing deportation when the Palestinian people need them most.”Mr Mitchell said the Government was “doing everything we can to advance that position”.