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Gaza under attack: UK minister's pro-Israel tweet breaks with government line

Foreign Office minister Zac Goldsmith quickly deleted his message, which had declared his support for Israel and its military
Zac Goldsmith
Zac Goldsmith lost his parliamentary seat in the 2019 election, but was appointed to the House of Lords by Prime Minister Boris Johnson (AFP)

A UK foreign minister has broken with his government's official line by taking to social media to proclaim his support for Israel and its military.

Lord Zac Goldsmith, a junior minister with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), sent a supportive tweet just as Prime Minister Boris Johnson was urging both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to "step back from the brink" to avoid further bloodshed.

Goldsmith, a member of the UK parliament's upper house, the Lords, retweeted a tweet that had been posted by the Israeli military, about Hamas rocket attacks and Israeli retaliation.

He added the comment: "No country on Earth would be expected to tolerate these incessant attacks on innocent civilians - by an organisation committed to their total eradication. Why should Israel?”

'The recent escalation in violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is deeply concerning'
- James Cleverly, UK Middle East minister

The tweet was deleted a short while later, but only after it had been captured by other users of the social media platform.

There was no comment from the FCDO.

The UK's Daily Mirror newspaper quoted an unnamed government source as saying Goldsmith was able to "get away with anything" because of his close friendship with Johnson's fiancée, Carrie Symonds.

In 2016, Goldsmith was the Conservative party's candidate for mayor of London, and ran a campaign that was widely condemned for its attempts to falsely portray the Labour candidate, Sadiq Khan, as an apologist for "extremists" and an associate of antisemites.

Writing for Middle East Eye, the veteran political commentator Peter Oborne described Goldsmith's campaign as "the most repulsive I have ever seen as a political reporter".

In the event, Khan easily defeated Goldsmith, and was re-elected last week.

Goldsmith's comments on Israel came as the government minister with responsibility for Middle Eastern affairs, James Cleverly, told the House of Commons on Wednesday that the UK condemned the firing of rockets at Jerusalem as acts of terrorism, but that Israel's response should be proportionate and lawful, and should make every effort to avoid civilian casualties.

"The recent escalation in violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is deeply concerning," Cleverly said. "It is the worst violence seen there for several years. As the prime minister and the foreign secretary have made clear, this cycle of violence must stop and every effort must be made to avoid the loss of life, especially that of children.

'My heart bleeds for Palestine, for Jerusalem, the city of my family'

- Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat MP

"The UK offers our deepest condolences to the families of those civilians killed. Civilian deaths, both in Israel and Gaza, are a tragedy.

"We urge all sides to refrain from any kind of provocation so that calm is restored as quickly as possible. As we enter the final days of the holy month of Ramadan, restoration of peace and security is in everyone's interest."

Layla Moran, a British-Palestinian member of parliament and the foreign affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats recited the names of four Palestinian children killed in Gaza.

"Last night an Israeli child was added to their numbers," she said.

"My heart breaks for them, and my heart bleeds for Palestine, for Jerusalem, the city of my family, for the worshippers attacked by extremists at al-Aqsa Mosque on the holiest night of Ramadan and for all innocent civilians, Israeli and Palestinian."

It is not the first time that Goldsmith has embarrassed his government through his use of Twitter.

In March, he posted a tweet in which he accused the Queen's grandson, Prince Harry, of "blowing up his family", following an interview with the American talkshow host Oprah Winfrey.