Rishi Sunak told the Israeli president the UK ‘stands in solidarity’ against Hamas ‘terrorism’ today as he visited the crisis-hit country.
The PM stressed the right to ‘self-defence’ following the bloody attacks earlier this month as he met Isaac Herzog in Tel Aviv.
But he welcomed news that Israel will allow aid to enter Gaza, and the pair agreed the ‘imperative need to avoid further escalation’ in the Middle East.
Mr Sunak has been flanked by a bigger than usual security detail, with the situation highly volatile.
He will travel to other countries in the region after his discussions in Israel. Behind the scenes there have been intense efforts going on to free Brits suspected to have been taken hostage by Hamas.
Rishi Sunak told the Israeli president the UK ‘stands in solidarity’ against Hamas ‘terrorism’ today as he visited the crisis-hit country
The PM stressed the right to ‘self-defence’ following the bloody attacks earlier this month as he met Isaac Herzog in Tel Aviv
Rishi Sunak arrived in Israel today as he appeals to all sides to avoid ‘further dangerous escalation’ of the conflict
Mr Sunak is expected to hold talks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and president Isaac Herzog (right) in Tel Aviv
Mr Sunak posted on social media as he arrived in Israel this morning
An image distributed by Downing Street of Mr Sunak working on his RAF flight to Israel
Mr Sunak said: ‘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.’
Downing Street said after visiting Israel Mr Sunak will travel on to a ‘number of other regional capitals’ for talks with Arab leaders before returning to the UK on Friday.
No10 said his exact schedule was still being finalised last night, but Whitehall sources suggested he hopes to visit Egypt and Jordan.
A government source said the PM would ‘show strong support for Israel’ but also urge all sides to work to prevent the conflict ‘turning into a regional war’.
Before he departed, Mr Sunak 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.’
Downing Street said ‘at least’ seven British citizens were killed in the sickening Hamas attacks which triggered the crisis. A further nine are missing, some of whom are thought to be held captive by Hamas in Gaza.
Mr Sunak held private talks with the family of one British hostage victim before travelling yesterday.
In a round of interviews in the UK this morning, security minister Tom Tugendhat said the figures are still not entirely clear on the number of British hostages.
‘At the moment the figures are not entirely clear… we are doing our best to make sure that we help get the hostages released,’ he told Times Radio.
‘As you know the Prime Minister has just landed in Israel and the Foreign Secretary is visiting various nations to ask for help in these conversations and no doubt he will be able to update you as soon as he’s made some advances,’ he said.
Britain is pushing for the opening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt in order to get aid in and allow UK nationals to leave. The UK announced a £10million aid package for Gaza this week but there is currently no way of getting humanitarian support into the war zone.
Mr Sunak arrived in Israel just 24 hours after Arab leaders pulled out of talks with Joe Biden in protest at the hospital blast.
The US President met Mr Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, but a planned visit to Jordan was cancelled in response to what they called ‘a great calamity and a heinous war crime’.
Mr Biden pinned the blame for the attack on Hamas-linked terrorists, citing US intelligence.
Mr Sunak told MPs that the UK was still assessing the evidence – and criticised the BBC and others for ‘rushing to judgment’ that an Israeli air strike was to blame.
In a twin-track approach, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will also fly to the region tomorrow for a flurry of diplomatic talks
Ministers have been angered by the media coverage, including from the BBC, which immediately blamed Israel for the hospital attack. A government source said it was ‘shoddy reporting which has not helped the situation’.
Privately, Whitehall officials believe that British intelligence analysts are likely to come to the same conclusion as their American counterparts in the coming days.
In a twin-track approach, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will also fly to the region tomorrow for a flurry of diplomatic talks.
Mr Cleverly, who visited Israel last week, will meet senior figures in Egypt, Turkey and Qatar over the next three days.
A source said the trip was part of international efforts to ‘uphold regional stability, free hostages and allow humanitarian access to Gaza’. 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.’
The visit to Qatar is likely to raise eyebrows, given its role in playing host to senior figures in the political leadership of Hamas.
But the Gulf state is said to be playing a pivotal role in trying to secure the release of almost 200 people captured by Hamas during its assault on Israel this month. Mr Sunak spoke by phone to the Emir of Qatar on Tuesday as part of efforts to help British families ‘get their relatives home’.
Security will be tight for the visit amid growing concern at the deteriorating situation in the region. German chancellor Olaf Scholz’s plane was evacuated on the runway at Ben Gurion airport on Tuesday night due to rocket attacks.