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By Tom Bateman in Washington DC, & Ali Abbas Ahmadi
BBC News

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has confirmed that UK arms sales to Israel will not be suspended.

The announcement follows mounting pressure on the government over its weapons trade with Israel, after an air strike which killed aid workers and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Ministers have been asked whether legal advice deems Israel to have breached international humanitarian law.

If proved, it could ultimately bar arms sales from the UK.

On 8 March, Lord Cameron said he would get new advice on the issue “in the coming days”.

Earlier on Tuesday, at a State Department news conference in Washington, the BBC asked Lord Cameron why, a month later, there had still been no announcement on a decision. He confirmed he had now reviewed the “most recent advice” about Israeli conduct, saying: “The latest assessment leaves our position on export licences unchanged.”

Lord Cameron said: “Let me be clear, though, we continue to have to have grave concerns around the humanitarian access issue in Gaza, both for the period that was assessed and subsequently.

“So far, no like-minded countries have taken the decision to suspend existing arms export licences to Israel and I’d add that Israel remains a vital defensive security partner to the UK,” he added.

But Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, suggested the government’s position was “simply not good enough”.

“David Cameron is still hiding from scrutiny, by stating that arms sales will continue without even publishing a summary of the legal advice or offering any rationale behind his decision”, he said.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, meanwhile, said the US had not been given a date by Israel for its threatened ground offensive into the city of Rafah. The Biden administration has repeatedly said it opposes a full-scale assault on the city, which is home to 1.4 million displaced Palestinians.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he has set a date for an operation but has not clarified exactly when that is. Israel says it is targeting four Hamas battalions that remain in Rafah.

Mr Blinken said the US was having “an ongoing conversation with Israel about any Rafah operation”.

The BBC asked him about last week’s air strike by Israel that killed seven workers from the food charity World Central Kitchen, and whether the family of Jacob Flickinger, a US-Canadian citizen among those killed, could expect meaningful accountability.

He said Israel had taken some “initial steps in that direction”, including sacking two senior commanders who were engaged in what he called a “horrible incident”.

“But we’re in the process, an ongoing process of looking at the looking at the conclusions and talking both to Israel and humanitarian organisations about it,” Mr Blinken added.

‘Private meeting’ with Trump

Lord Cameron was also asked to divulge the details of his dinner with former President Donald Trump on Monday, which he dismissed saying it was a “private meeting”.

The pair dined at Mr Trump’s Florida estate Mar-a-Lago, and Lord Cameron said they “discussed a range of important geopolitical subjects”.

He argued there was precedent for foreign secretaries to meet opposition candidates during visits abroad.

Lord Cameron has previously criticised Mr Trump, who is the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party in the US presidential election in November.

Watch: David Cameron defends a ”private meeting” with Donald Trump

Mr Trump, and his supporters within the party, oppose the US package providing aid to Ukraine. Some in the House of Representatives have vowed to vote against the package without additional funding for US border security being agreed to first.

Lord Cameron has been urging Republicans for some time to approve the aid package, particularly angering Republican congresswoman and Trump loyalist Marjorie Taylor-Greene, who previously told the foreign secretary to “kiss my ass”.

She was responding to an article written by the foreign secretary, in which he warned the US against showing “the weakness displayed against [Nazi Germany leader Adolf] Hitler in the 1930s”.

In 2015, during his time as prime minister, Lord Cameron labelled Mr Trump’s proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the US “divisive, stupid and wrong”.

“I think if he came to visit our country I think it’d unite us all against him,” Lord Cameron said at the time, when Mr Trump was not yet elected.

Mr Trump replied by warning he may not have a “very good relationship” with Mr Cameron during his presidency.

In his memoirs published in 2019, Lord Cameron further said that he found it “depressing” that Mr Trump could win an election, and that it was due to his “protectionist, xenophobic, misogynistic interventions”.

Asked by the BBC whether he still held that view of Mr Trump, the foreign secretary declined to answer.

Elsewhere, in a potentially embarrassing development, it has emerged that a crucial meeting Lord Cameron said he was going to have with Mike Johnson, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, has not yet taken place.

Before travelling, the foreign secretary made a social media video saying he would be meeting Mr Johnson to persuade him to advance the vote on military assistance for Ukraine.

But in what has widely been seen as a snub, UK officials have been unable to secure the meeting – although it is understood attempts are still being made to schedule it.

15 February
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