The Prime Minister has arrived in Israel to “express solidarity” with the country over Hamas’s October 7 attack as part of a two-day trip calling for any escalation of violence in the wider region to be avoided.
Rishi Sunak landed at Ben Gurion airport on Thursday morning ahead of holding talks with his counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, and President Isaac Herzog.
“Above all, I’m here to express my solidarity with the Israeli people. You have suffered an unspeakable, horrific act of terrorism and I want you to know that the United Kingdom and I stand with you,” Mr Sunak told reporters on the ground.
As part of a trip, he will urge Middle East leaders to “avoid further dangerous escalation”, saying that “too many lives have been lost” already in the Israeli-Hamas conflict.
The visit comes after the US president flew into Israel on Wednesday in a diplomatic bid to prevent fighting from spiralling into a larger crisis.
Joe Biden urged Israel not to be “consumed by” rage in the wake of Hamas’s deadly attack on October 7 and to avoid making the same “mistakes” that the US did after September 11 2001, following the Islamist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
The president’s trip appeared to mark a breakthrough, with Mr Netanyahu’s office announcing it had approved a request from Mr Biden to allow Egypt to deliver limited quantities of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
The first crack in a punishing 10-day siege on the territory came a day after a deadly blast at a Gaza City hospital killed hundreds.
Hamas blamed Israel for the strike, while Tel Aviv pointed the finger at a rocket misfire by Islamic Jihad, another militant group operating in Gaza. Islamic Jihad has dismissed the claim.
Appearing on Thursday’s morning media round, security minister Tom Tugendhat said British intelligence services are still working to establish the facts surrounding the blast.
He accused some of engaging in “irresponsible speculation” which he said had led to Arab leaders calling off planned talks with the US president.
“The reason we’re going to be so careful about this is that the premature speculation comes at a cost,” he told Times Radio.
“It now appears that that was at best speculation and at worst propaganda by a terrorist organisation.”
Mr Tugendhat said he would not “name names” over whom in particular he thought was responsible for the speculation but pointed to commentary on social media platforms.
The hospital deaths sparked protests across the Middle East, including angry scenes in Jordan and in the Lebanese capital Beirut where hundreds of demonstrators clashed with security forces near the US embassy on Wednesday.
The Hezbollah group, a key ally of Hamas, also held a rally in the city.
The Foreign Office has since updated its travel guidance to Lebanon, which shares a border with Israel, advising against all travel to the country and encouraging British nationals currently there to “leave now while commercial options remain available”.
During the Prime Minister’s trip to the Middle East, in which he is expected to meet a number of counterparts, No 10 said he plans to press for aid to be allowed into Gaza and for those “trapped in the territory” to be allowed to leave the 25-mile area.
A Downing Street official said he will share his condolences for the “terrible loss of life in Israel and Gaza in the last two weeks as a result of Hamas’s brutal terrorist attacks”.
He will call for the “barbaric” acts carried out by the Palestinian militant group not to “become a catalyst for further escalation of conflict in the region”.
Ahead of his departure, the Prime Minister said: “Every civilian death is a tragedy. And too many lives have been lost following Hamas’s horrific act of terror.
“The attack on al Ahli hospital should be a watershed moment for leaders in the region and across the world to come together to avoid further dangerous escalation of conflict.
“I will ensure the UK is at the forefront of this effort.”
The 2,200-mile trip means Mr Sunak will not be in the UK when the results of Thursday’s Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire by-election contests are announced in the early hours of Friday, with the Conservatives battling to hold on to what were once regarded as safe seats.
In parallel to Mr Sunak’s travel, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will visit Egypt, Turkey and Qatar in the coming days to underscore the UK’s message.
Mr Cleverly said: “It is in no one’s interests – neither Israeli, Palestinian nor the wider Middle East – for others to be drawn into this conflict.
“I am meeting counterparts from influential states in the region to push for calm and stability, facilitate humanitarian access into Gaza and work together to secure the release of hostages.”
Since the flare-up of violence in Israel and Gaza, the Community Security Trust, a Jewish charity, and police have recorded a steep rise in antisemitism in the UK.
Robin Simcox, the commissioner for countering extremism, said the rise was a sign that Britain was “very sick indeed” and should be a “wake-up call”.
In an article for The Times, he suggested the “normalisation” of anti-Israel extremism and antisemitism was because of a “failed policy mix of mass migration and multiculturalism”.
Published: by Radio NewsHub