Alistair Burt gives UK reaction to Gaza flotilla attack on the BBC

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt discussed the UK’s response to Israel’s attack on the Gaza flotilla on BBC Radio 5 Live

Declan Curry, presenter: We’re going to return to our top story now which concerns the Israeli commandos storming a convoy of ships carrying aid to Gaza.

The Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt is on the line. Mr Burt good evening to you.

Alistair Burt: Hello Declan.

DC: Nine people killed in this attack in international waters. Does the British Government condemn what Israel has done?

AB: Well we deplore the loss of life. It’s clearly a very serious incident. We don’t yet know all the facts about how it happened, but certainly it’s, it’s a very serious matter indeed and the loss of life is deeply tragic and yet, just another part of the loss of, loss of life associated with Gaza and the Middle East.

DC: You say we don’t yet know the full facts, but we do know some things because they were confirmed to us on this programme by the Israeli Government’s official spokesman Mark Regev. We know that Israel did not know whether there were weapons on board this boat. It had suspicions but it had no firm knowledge, no firm intelligence, but it went ahead and stormed the boat anyway.

AB: Well that’s a matter for the Israelis. It’s quite clear that although we don’t know the …

DC: It’s a matter for the international community as well is it not Mr Burt?

AB: We don’t know the sequence of events, but we do know the consequences. The consequences have been tragic and the loss of life is heavy and we need a full investigation to find out why. Our first, our first responsibility is to ensure that any British people who were involved with the flotilla are safe and well.

I spoke to the Ambassador of Israel this afternoon to seek to ascertain that and get full consular access. And we’ve also made the point as we’ve made the point before, that part of this stems from the very unhappy situation in Gaza itself. We want to see unfettered access to humanitarian aid in Gaza and then of course the issues surrounding Gaza and Israel need to be settled.

Until this work is done, and we support the Proximity Talks that are taking place at the moment between Israel and the Palestinians, the danger of something like this happening again is all too great.

DC: Do, do you agree with Israel that it has the right to stop ships like this so long as rockets continue to hit Gaza?

AB: There is international law that supports Israel in taking action to protect its waters and protect the situation in relation to Gaza, but at present the, the details of this are still so unclear. I don’t think it’s a matter to go in to this evening. What we do need, what we do know is that there was a sequence of events which led to a significant loss of life. This is deplored by all of us.

There’ve been very strong statements made by, by the international community, by the EU. The UN is meeting tonight. So no one should minimise the seriousness of this, but equally the underlying cause remains the unhappy situation in Gaza, the fact that it’s still not been resolved and you have people so much at odds with each other and really the international community has got to back all the efforts that are being made to ensure that people get round the table and we start to get some, some answers to this. It can’t be left as it is.

DC: The Government of Turkey describes this as state terrorism.

AB: Well that’s the view of the Government of Turkey, but we’ve, we’ve issued our own statement. We’ve spoken to the Ambassador this afternoon. The EU’s making a statement; the UN will make a statement.

DC: Do you think Israel has the right to do this?

AB: Well as I indicated earlier, we do not know all the facts that affected this incident. There are various competing versions out there and I think it’s very important to find out exactly what has happened before making any, any conclusive statement in relation to that. What we’re concerned about first and foremost is to make sure British citizens are safe and well.

We’re pressing the Israeli authorities for all the information in relation to that to make we sure we have full consular access to them and to continue to make the point there has to be humanitarian aid getting in to Gaza.
We want to make sure that’s free and unfettered humanitarian access and there needs to be a resolution of the political situation surrounding Gaza because at present the people in Gaza clearly are living in, in, in very unhappy circumstances and insecure and so are the people who feel that they’re under threat from the rockets fired from Gaza. So all in all unless that is sorted out the chance of these incidents occurring in the future is great and that’s got to be sorted.

DC: Mr Burt thanks very much. That’s the Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt.