Documents to download

On 7 October 2023, the Palestinian group Hamas, officially designated a terrorist group by many countries including Israel, the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom, commenced an armed assault against Israel. It launched several thousand rockets into Israel and conducted attacks in border areas, killing around 1,200 civilians, and took an estimated 240 hostages, as part of what it called “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood”.

In response, Israel’s military forces conducted air strikes against Hamas in Gaza. On 28 October, Israeli ground attacks in Gaza began with the aim of “destroy[ing] Hamas’ governing and military capabilities and to bring the hostages home.” Hamas also continued to fire rockets into Israel. A pause in fighting to release hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners detained in Israeli prisons began on 24 November 2023. The Israeli Government said the pause will last a maximum of 10 days.

In Gaza, the UN has said residential buildings are among the sites targeted by Israel and has raised concerns for the humanitarian situation. Hezbollah, a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK, has also fired rockets from Lebanon into Israel and Israel has conducted airstrikes against Hezbollah.

This is the fourth high-level conflict between Hamas and Israel since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.

Citing Israeli authorities and the Hamas-controlled Government Media Office, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that since 7 October, more than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals have been reported killed and 5,431 injured. Over 15,000 Palestinians have been reported killed and over 36,000 injured across Gaza and Israel (as of 29 November 2023).

This briefing provides information on the UK and international response to the conflict. It also includes UK Government advice for British nationals.

International response

UN Secretary General and UN Security Council

On 24 October, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres called for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”.

On 9 October, the Israeli Government announced a “complete siege” of Gaza and called for civilians to evacuate northern Gaza. The UN Secretary General called for Israel to rescind the evacuation order, and for Hamas to release its hostages. He has also called for unimpeded humanitarian access to Gaza.

On 15 November, the UN Security Council passed a resolution which called for the immediate release of all hostages by Hamas and for “urgent and extended humanitarian corridors” throughout Gaza. Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States abstained. The UK and US said they abstained because the resolution did not condemn the Hamas attack against Israel on 7 October. Russia called for a ceasefire.

The Israeli representative to the UN criticised the resolution for failing to condemn Hamas and said Israel “will continue to act until Hamas is destroyed and the hostages are returned”. The Palestinian representative, Riyad Mansour (representing the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank), said the resolution should have called for an immediate truce.

Pauses in fighting

On 9 November, the US said Israel would begin four to five hour pauses in its military operations in northern Gaza. The Israeli Defence Forces has said these are “tactical, local pauses” for the delivery of aid and not a ceasefire.

A pause in fighting began on 24 November to enable the release of hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners detained in Israeli prisons. Qatar and Egypt mediated the agreement for an initial four day pause. As of 30 November, a three day extension has been agreed. Before the agreement came into effect on 24 November, Israel said the pause would last no longer than ten days and that fighting would then resume.

Rafah crossing

The Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza was closed for much of the initial period after 7 October. Following negotiations, on 18 October Israel agreed to the reopening of the crossing for limited humanitarian aid only.

From 1 November, the Rafah crossing also opened “for time limited periods” to allow up to 500 foreign nationals and injured Palestinians to leave daily. A spokesperson for the UN Secretary General said the pause from 24 November allowed UN aid to Gaza to be “scaled up” but that aid deliveries “barely register” against the need of the population.

United States, EU and G7 response

The United States has deployed additional military assets to the Middle East and Israel to act as a deterrent against escalation by Hezbollah in Lebanon and by other groups aligned with Iran. Both the United States and the European Union have announced additional humanitarian aid to the region.

The G7 (the United States, Japan, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Italy, and the EU) says it supports “humanitarian pauses and corridors” in the conflict to allow the delivery of aid, release of hostages, and civilian movement. US President Joe Biden has said the United States will not support negotiations for a ceasefire until Hamas has released the hostages it took.

UK Government response

Advice for British nationals

The UK Government states any British nationals in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Lebanon should register their presence with the UK Government. It has also said that all British nationals should leave Lebanon.

UK military and humanitarian response  

The UK Government has deployed military assets to the Middle East to promote de-escalation and conduct surveillance activities.

The UK has also announced £60 million in aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) since 7 October. No UK aid is directed via Hamas, instead it is arranged through UN agencies. The Commons Library research briefing, UK aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip: FAQs, provides more on UK aid.

UK statements on the conflict and diplomatic actions

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has condemned the 7 October attack by Hamas. He has defended Israel’s right to defend itself, said Israel should take steps to protect civilians in Gaza, and that the UK will work diplomatically to secure the delivery of humanitarian aid and prevent regional escalation. The Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, Lord David Cameron, and former Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, have also met with leaders in the Middle East to discuss the conflict, humanitarian aid and access, regional de-escalation and the release of hostages.

Position on a ceasefire and humanitarian pause

In line with the US position, the UK Government has supported temporary “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting for the delivery of aid and the release of hostages. This is also the position of the Labour Party, while the SNP has called for a ceasefire. The Liberal Democrats have called an “immediate bilateral ceasefire” between Israel and Hamas. Speaking on 18 October, James Cleverly said he did not believe Hamas would respect a ceasefire.

On 15 November 2023, the House of Commons voted on Labour and SNP amendments in the King’s Speech debates, which called for longer humanitarian pauses as “a necessary step to an enduring cessation of fighting” (Labour) and for the Government to “press all parties to agree to a humanitarian ceasefire” (SNP). The amendments can be read in full in Hansard for 15 November 2023.

Responding for the Government, Minister for Policing Chris Philp reiterated its position that Hamas would not adhere to a ceasefire and unilateral action by Israel “would not be fair or just”. Both amendments failed to pass: 290 votes against 183 in favour (Labour) and 293 to 125 (SNP).

Documents to download

Related posts