British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a Liberal Democrat party member of conservative Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government, said the following on his weekly LBC radio program Thursday, in response to the shelling of a Gaza beach by an Israeli gunboat, which killed four Palestinian children and critically wounded another playing near the water [audio version follows below]...
I will always defend --- I've done it on this program before - Israel's right to respond and to defend itself in the face of violence that is designed to terrorize Israeli citizens. I have spoken out repeatedly about Israel's very legitimate demands that Hamas and others recognize Israel's right to exist, and to exist peacefully within its own borders and provide security to its own citizens.
I have to say, though, I really do think now the Israeli response is --- appears to be deliberately disproportionate. It is amounting now to a disproportionate form of collective punishment. It is leading to a humanitarian crisis in Gaza which is just unacceptable. And I really would now call on the Israeli government to stop.
Interviewer: [crosstalk] Hamas would continue, though, Deputy Prime Minister...
CLEGG: Well, no, Israel of course retains the right to react, but I'm just saying you cannot see the humanitarian suffering in Gaza now, without concluding that --- and the very many numbers of deaths in Gaza --- without concluding that there is not much more going to be served in Israel's own interests.
And this is a point I keep wanting to make, because every time of course any politician speaks out, I guarantee I'll get lots of people kind of getting --- I quite understand to be quite passionate about this --- all I would say is, as someone who is a long-standing defender of Israel's right to defend itself, of Israel's right to defend its values and its own citizens, it is not in the long run in Israel's own interests to see this festering humanitarian crisis get ever worse in Gaza. Because all it does, of course, in the long run, is act as a kind of, almost as an incubation, if you will --- it incubates the next generation of violent extremists who want to do harm to Israel, so...
Interviewer: They might argue, though, that Hamas will just carry on shelling, Deputy Prime Minister.
CLEGG: Well, if Hamas does that then of course Israel reserves the right to respond. All I'm saying is today, we have the glimmer of hope that a five-hour humanitarian cease-fire has been entered into by both sides. And my plea today, to both sides, is please build on that. Because further deaths, more violence begetting more violence, is not in anybody's interests. And it's not going to help deliver the only way, the only way, in which Israelis will be able to live in security and peace in the long run. Which is a negotiated two-state peace settlement. It is the only way. And there's just no --- I know it's very easy as an outsider to pronounce on these things, but I really do think that the level of humanitarian suffering in Gaza now, the number of deaths, and the disproportionate --- the apparently, almost deliberate use of disproportionate response --- now needs to come to an end.
According to the UK's Evening Standard, before Israeli ground troops moved into Gaza on Friday: "More than 220 Palestinians have died in nine days of fighting and Hamas rockets have killed one Israeli."
For his part, UK Prime Minister Cameron reportedly told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week that he "strongly condemned the appalling attacks being carried out by Hamas against Israeli civilians," and he "reiterated the UK's staunch support for Israel in the face of such attacks, and underlined Israel's right to defend itself from them."
However, Cameron also is said to have signed on to an EU statement [PDF] on Wednesday, which "condemns the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel and the indiscriminate targeting of civilians," but adds that the European Council "deeply deplores the loss of innocent lives and the high number of wounded civilians in the Gaza Strip as a result of Israeli military operations".