Page last updated at 21:40 GMT, Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Gaza strip an 'open air prison', claims Labour peer

Israel's "tightening" blockade of Gaza has created the "largest open air prison in the world", a Labour peer has claimed.

Lord Warner said it represented "collective punishment" of Gaza's citizens and was in "direct violation" of article 33 of the fourth Geneva Convention.

Opening a dinner-break debate on the subject on 8 February 2012, Lord Warner told peers Gaza's infrastructure was falling apart and that the water, sewage and health care systems were "on the verge of collapse".

Lord Warner said it was time for the international community to take a "more robust" stance with Israel over its behaviour in Gaza.

He pressed ministers on how far the UK government would go with its international partners "to get the Israelis to change course".

The Conservative's Lord Patten said civilian goods did flow to Gaza "in parallel with the real blockade against arms, against munitions and against some dual-use materials that can be misused".

This is "exactly" what the UK would be doing if it suffered "persistent attack" from near neighbours, he argued.

Lord Patten said Gaza needed "much help" but that it was better if this came from the international community working with Israel to bring about change, while "explicitly and publicly" appreciating Israel's "somewhat understandable security needs" in the region.

Opposition spokesman Lord Triesman said there was "understandable" concern about the blockade and provision of goods to Gaza.

But he did not accept Lord Warner's remarks that Israel was pursuing a policy of "collective punishment".

Lord Triesman welcomed the recent "increased movement" of goods and services in and out of Gaza but accepted it was not enough and a step change was needed.

Home Office Minister Lord Howell of Guildford said the government understood Israel's "legitimate security concerns" over Gaza.

But the current restrictions were "ineffective" in stopping the flow of illicit goods - such as rockets - into Gaza via the tunnels, he said.

Lord Howell said the government would continue to encourage Israel to ease restrictions on movements of goods and people, which were causing "tremendous" damage to the economy and living standards in Gaza.

The government would also, through the Department for International Development, continue its "important" support for the people of Gaza, he added.

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