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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 taking 253 hostages, as part of what it called “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood”.

This briefing provides information on the UK and international response to the conflict, including activity at the UN and statements by the UK Government.

Ongoing hostilities and casualties

In response to the assault, Israel conducted air strikes against Hamas in Gaza and on 28 October launched a ground attack to “destroy Hamas’ governing and military capabilities and to bring the hostages home”. Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel.

Ongoing hostilities are also taking place between Israel and Iran-aligned Hezbollah in Lebanon and northern Israel.

Other Iran-aligned groups in Syria and Iraq have conducted attacks against US forces, killing three troops in Jordan in January, drawing a US response. From Yemen, the Houthis have launched attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

Citing Israeli authorities and the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) says that since 7 October, more than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals have been reported killed and 5,432 injured. At least 32,623 Palestinians have been reported killed and about 75,092 injured across Gaza and Israel (as of 29 March 2024).

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) estimates 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.2 million population are now displaced.

Pauses in fighting and humanitarian access 

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

From 24 November to 1 December, a pause took place to enable the release of hostages. Before the pause began, Israel said it would last no longer than 10 days and fighting would then resume. The pause enabled the release of 110 hostages from Gaza and 240 Palestinian prisoners from Israel.

There has been only limited humanitarian access to Gaza since 7 October 2023. On 18 October, Israel agreed to the reopening of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza for humanitarian aid. From November, up to 500 foreign nationals and injured Palestinians have been able to leave daily.

On 17 December, the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza also opened for aid. In March, the US announced plans to build a temporary pier off Gaza to facilitate humanitarian aid delivery, which the UK supports.

UN Secretary General and UN Security Council

On 24 October, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres called for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”. He reiterated this call in March. He has also called for unimpeded humanitarian access to Gaza. The UN Security Council has passed three binding resolutions since 7 October:

Israel has criticised the resolutions for not condemning Hamas and said it will “continue to act until Hamas is destroyed and the hostages are returned”. It argued the March resolution “gives Hamas hope” international pressure will enable a ceasefire without the release of hostages. At the UN, the Palestinian Authority representative said it wanted to see an “immediate ceasefire, humanitarian assistance at scale, and no forced displacement [from Gaza]”.

International Court of Justice case

In January 2024, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued preliminary (emergency) measures on a case brought against Israel by South Africa alleging Israel was breaching its obligations under the Genocide Convention (PDF). The case will likely last several years.

The ICJ did not order a ceasefire, as requested by South Africa, but set out certain steps for Israel to take, including increasing humanitarian aid to Gaza and taking “all measures” to prevent the “commission of genocidal acts”. Israel argues the case is a “distort[ion]” of the convention. Both South Africa and the Palestinian Authority have said Israeli military operations must end.

On 28 March, the ICJ issued additional provisional measures reaffirming those issued in January and stating Israel should take all necessary and effective steps to ensure the “unhindered provision at scale” of humanitarian aid. The Israeli Government said it was working on new initiatives and the expansion of existing ones to further the flow of aid into Gaza.

United States, EU and G7 response

UK Government response

UK Government advice for British nationals

UK military, diplomatic and humanitarian actions   

UK Government statements on the conflict

Debate in the UK on a “sustainable ceasefire”

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