First Minister Humza Yousaf has urged the UK Government to rethink its plans to continue to allow arms exports to Israel – warning it risks being “complicit in the killing of innocent civilians”.

Mr Yousaf said it was “difficult to comprehend” that the UK Government has not ended the licensing of arms exports to Israel despite the deaths of tens of thousands of Palestinians, the majority women and children, since last October.

He condemned the attacks by Hamas on October 7 which sparked the conflict but said the response “has gone far beyond any legitimate response”.

Mr Yousaf wrote letters to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on February 23 and April 3 to raise concerns, and cited an open letter signed by more than 600 legal experts warning of “potential UK complicity in grave breaches of international law, including violations of the Genocide Convention”.

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Lord Ahmad, minister for the Middle East, responded on April 8 and did not agree to end the licensing of arms exports to Israel, according to Mr Yousaf’s letter.

In his reply to Lord Ahmad on April 12, the First Minster wrote: “I welcome the UK Government’s stated commitment to International Humanitarian Law, our diplomats’ contribution to finally achieving a UN Security Council Resolution, and the UK’s wider efforts to bring an end to the tragedy befalling the people of the Middle East.

The Herald: First Minister Humza Yousaf wants the UK Government to stop exporting arms to Israel amid the destruction of Gaza and the killing of more than 35,000  people.

“I share with you the grief at the killing of three British aid workers, along with every other innocent man, woman and child killed in Gaza and Israel since Hamas’s terrorist attacks of October 7 and Israel’s response, which has gone far beyond any legitimate response.

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“In spite of everything in your reply, I note you have not agreed to end the licence of arms exports to Israel, which means the UK will continue to arm Israel’s war in Gaza, that has left tens of thousands dead, the majority reported to be women and children.

“As I said in my letter of April 3, by continuing to arm Israel, the United Kingdom Government is in danger of being complicit in the killing of innocent civilians.

“I find it difficult to comprehend that this continues to be the United Kingdom’s position against the backdrop of the ICJ ruling; UN Security Council, General Assembly and Human Rights Council Resolutions; countless UN officials’ statements about the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza; and the recent open letter signed by over 600 legal professionals warning of potential UK complicity in grave breaches of international law, including violations of the Genocide Convention.

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“If this, alongside the killing of British nationals among at least 35,000 dead – the majority of whom are innocent women and children – is insufficient to change your policy, what more will it take?”

Western governments have been coming under growing pressure to halt arms sales to Israel over how it is waging the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Israel is a major weapons exporter, but its military has been heavily reliant on imported aircraft, guided bombs and missiles to conduct what experts have described as one of the most intense and destructive aerial campaigns in recent history.

Campaign groups and some politicians in the west say arms exports should be suspended because, they say, Israel is failing to do enough to protect the lives of civilians and ensure enough humanitarian aid reaches them.

The UN Human Rights Council has backed a weapons ban, with 28 countries voting in favour, six against and 13 abstentions. The US and Germany - which account for the vast majority of Israel's arms imports - both voted against. Germany said it did so because the resolution did not explicitly condemn Hamas.

The war was triggered by Hamas's attack on Israel on 7 October, which killed about 1,200 people, mainly civilians, according Israeli tallies. More than 35,000 people have been killed in Gaza, 70% of them children and women, the Hamas-run health ministry says.

Israel insists that its forces are working to avoid civilian casualties, accuses Hamas of deliberately putting civilians in the line of fire and has said there are no limits on aid deliveries.

The UK Government has been contacted for comment.