UK aid is still largely being blocked from entering Gaza despite diplomatic efforts, the development assistance watchdog said in a report released on Tuesday.

The UK has committed an extra £70 million in humanitarian funding to the Palestinian Territories since the Israel-Hamas war broke out in October 2023 and had diplomatic discussions at senior levels to seek to encourage Israel to ease restrictions on humanitarian access, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact said.

But at land crossings, the Israeli military subjects aid convoys to exhaustive inspections to prevent the delivery of “dual use” items that might benefit Hamas or be used as a weapon, which leads to trucks frequently being delayed or turned back, according to the ICAI.

The body said it had received reports that stone fruit had been turned away after being deemed dual use.

“While the UK has significantly increased aid to Gaza in response to the crisis it’s clear that very little is reaching those who urgently need it, with restrictions on land access – the only way to move enough aid – increasing and the situation for aid workers increasingly perilous,” ICAI chief commissioner Tamsyn Barton said.

She added: “That the UK and other donors’ diplomatic attempts to improve access and save lives have so far been ineffective shows how fragile the system underpinning international humanitarian law is, confronting a hugely complex crisis such as this.

“We note that other donors have taken steps such as stopping or reducing arms sales or resuming funding to the main humanitarian agency, UNRWA, while the UK has not.”

UNRWA, the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees and main provider of aid in Gaza, was investigated over claims that some of its staff had links with the militant group. The outcome of a probe was enough for other countries such as Canada and Australia to restore their cashflow.

The UK had already paid its planned contributions for 2023-2024 before the suspension, but it has not allocated funding to UNRWA for this financial year.

The UK’s primary focus has been on securing land access for humanitarian aid, which all those interviewed by ICAI agreed was the most viable option for delivery at scale.

Interviewees agreed that airdrops of humanitarian supplies into Gaza, which the UK has also carried out, should be a last resort because of the danger they pose to civilians, the watchdog said.

House of Commons International Development Committee chairwoman Sarah Champion said the report showed the UK must “step up to its proper place in the international humanitarian system and take effective action”.

Israel Palestinians
Palestinians waiting for aid trucks to cross in central Gaza (Abdel Kareem Hana/AP)

She said: “How can we say that people trapped in Gaza are being treated in accordance with international humanitarian law – or that the UK’s representations are having any meaningful effect?

“This independent review affirms what the Committee saw when we visited the region as far back as February, what we have heard in evidence from aid workers on the ground who have seen far too many of their colleagues killed and injured, and what the whole world is now finally seeing.

“Some countries are choosing to respond with serious action: limiting arms sales to Israel and restoring funding to UNWRA. The FCDO’s response to our IDC report on the situation was full of the right words, and the UK’s increased aid to Gaza was very welcome, but in the reality of the situation on the ground these are nothing more than a gesture.

“Despite all the diplomatic efforts and promises secured, a total of 59 aid trucks crossed into Gaza between 5 and 13 May – the rest turned back on excuses as flimsy as containing fruits with stones in them.

“Before this horror, 500 aid trucks were entering Gaza daily to meet normal need.”