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Extremists exploited Gaza protests but Israel must show restraint – Johnson

The Foreign Secretary spoke in the Commons following Monday’s violence.

Boris Johnson said peaceful Gaza protests have been “exploited by extremists” but urged Israel to show restraint in using live fire after violence claimed scores of lives.

The Foreign Secretary issued the plea in the Commons as he insisted the UK remains committed to a two-state Israel-Palestine solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital.

Middle East minister Alistair Burt added the UK has so far received “no information” to suggest that UK-supplied equipment has been used against protesters, amid calls from opposition MPs to suspend arms sales to Israel.

He also said the tragedies should be used as “an opportunity for a springboard to peace”.

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Mark Regev, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom (Yui Mok/PA)

Israeli forces used live fire in a “measured” and “surgical” way, according to Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev.

He also claimed Israel “did everything we could” to avoid the bloodshed at the border with Gaza, which saw soldiers open fire on protesters.

The diplomat insisted that the protests were organised by militant group Hamas with an aim to “breach the border, to get inside Israel and to kill Israeli citizens”.

On Monday, Israeli forces killed 58 Palestinians, most by gunfire, and injured more than 2,700 during protests along the border – while a few miles away a ceremony was taking place in Jerusalem for the opening of the controversial new US embassy.

On Tuesday, Palestinians were observing a general strike to mourn those killed in the deadliest day in Gaza since the 2014 war.

Organisers said the day would be set aside for funerals and that turnout for any new protests on the border with Israel would be low.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Johnson told MPs: “I am deeply saddened by the loss of life in Gaza where peaceful protests are being exploited by extremists.

“I urge Israel to show restraint in the use of live fire and I take this opportunity to repeat the UK’s commitment to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital.”

Labour MP Richard Burden said the Government had written to him to say it did not collect data on the use of equipment after sale when he challenged them to investigate how sniper rifles and other weapons exported under licences from the UK to Israel were used.

He said: “Doesn’t that answer mean the Government hasn’t the first idea whether UK weapons are being used to shoot demonstrators in Gaza, and what does it take for the UK to enforce its own arms export criteria and stop arms sales to Israel?”

Mr Burt said a “proper risk assessment” takes place before sales are considered, adding: “Since the start of the recent difficulties in Gaza we have looked at all existent licences in relation to Israel and our sense at the moment is we’ve no information to suggest that UK-supplied equipment has been used against protesters.”

UK ministers discussed the situation in Gaza at the weekly meeting of the Cabinet where Theresa May urged both sides to “show restraint and refrain from any further violence”.

In a statement, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Government was “extremely concerned” by the scale of the violence, describing the loss of life and injuries to the Palestinians as “tragic”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “We cannot turn a blind eye to such wanton disregard for international law. That is why Labour is committed to reviewing UK arms sales to Israel while these violations continue.”

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry added to MPs that there had been an apparent “calculated and deliberate policy to kill and maim unarmed protesters, who posed no threat to the forces on the Gaza border”.

She said: “Many of them shot in the back. Many of them shot hundreds of metres from the border, and many of them children.”

Mr Regev earlier told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We use live fire only in a very measured way, in a very surgical way and only when there is no alternative.”

He added: “If we allow the Hamas terrorists to enter Israel, we will have dead Israelis. We must protect our border.”

Labour MP Wes Streeting said: “If, as Israel’s ambassador claims, yesterday’s action was ‘measured and surgical’ then I’d hate to see what he thinks ‘unmeasured and indiscriminate’ looks like.”

Tory former minister Andrew Percy urged Mr Burt to continue to “differentiate between protesters and between those who have used children as shields at the border, and those who have gone to the border with the sole intention of breaching it to kill innocent civilians”.

Fellow Conservative Ross Thomson (Aberdeen South) said: “We have seen Hamas officials actively encouraging protesters to be martyrs, bussing rioters to the border for them to sling Molotov cocktails and fire bombs across it to tear down fencing.”

He asked if Mr Burt shared his concern that Hamas are “using civilians as a cover to incite violence”.

The minister replied: “The horror with which people might be prepared to encourage more blood in order to demonstrate a political point is very real in the area – if there is anything we can do, we have to break into that as those who have done in other areas of conflict.”

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