Priti Patel did discuss UK aid going to Golan Heights, government admits

Catherine Neilan
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The Conservative Party Conference 2016 - Day One
Patel was not able to defend herself as she was on a "pre-arranged" trip to Africa (Source: Getty)

International development secretary Priti Patel is coming under further pressure as it was confirmed today she did discuss aid being diverted to the Israeli army after her undisclosed meetings in the country this summer.

A Downing Street spokesperson said that Patel had asked officials from her department to examine whether public money could support humanitarian operations in occupied parts of the Golan Heights, which would have been likely to contravene UK policy.

The UK does not recognise Israel’s presence in the Golan Heights, which was seized from Syria in the 1967 war.

"The secretary of state did discuss potential ways to provide medical support for Syrian refugees who are wounded and who cross into the Golan for aid," a Number 10 spokesman said today.

"The Israeli army runs field hospitals there to care for Syrians wounded in the civil war. But there is no change in policy in the area. The UK does not provide any financial support to the Israeli army."

The minister was also the subject of an urgent question in the Commons this afternoon, but unable to respond herself as she was on a "pre-arranged" trip to Africa, which meant she was "presently in the air", said international development minister Alistair Burt.

Burt told MPs Patel had discussed giving aid to the Israeli Defence Force, seeking that funds would be used to help the Israeli army look after Syrian refugees, and in that respect, he said Patel was just doing her job.

Burt said it was a "perfectly genuine question to ask on humanitarian basis", although it had been rejected because Golan Heights is regarded as occupied territory and therefore was "not appropriate".

Burt also confirmed that the foreign office was told of Patel's meetings on 24 August - saying it was "likely" the meetings had taken place beforehand.

Asked if he would have informed people if he had held meetings, he said "I would have told the ambassador, of course". But he stressed the Prime Minister "considered the matter closed".

Theresa May was not made aware of the meetings until last week, following her own bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and three months after Patel's visit.

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