ishi Sunak has called on Israel to “protect ordinary Palestinians” as it hunts down Hamas militants responsible for killing hundreds of Israelis.
Downing Street confirmed the Prime Minister spoke to his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday after agreeing to send Royal Navy vessels and Royal Air Force surveillance planes to support Tel Aviv after Hamas’ attack.
A No 10 spokeswoman said that during the phone call Mr Sunak “reiterated that the UK stands side by side with Israel in fighting terror” and that Hamas should “never again be able to perpetrate atrocities against the Israeli people”.
She added: “Noting that Hamas has enmeshed itself in the civilian population in Gaza, the Prime Minister said it was important to take all possible measures to protect ordinary Palestinians and facilitate humanitarian aid.”
The comments from Mr Sunak, who is in Sweden for the Joint Expeditionary Force summit, come after the United States reminded Israel that how it defends itself “matters”.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken said it was “important to take every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians”.
Mr Netanyahu has vowed to “crush” Hamas after its fighters stormed into the country’s south on Saturday and massacred hundreds of people, including killings of children in their homes and young people at a music festival.
The Israeli military has pulverized the Gaza Strip with missiles in reply, with a ground offensive also being prepared — a move that is likely to increase the death toll.
The conflict is thought to have already left close to 3,000 people dead.
Tel Aviv said on Thursday its complete siege of the territory would remain in place until Hamas militants free some 150 hostages taken during its murderous weekend incursion.
The Prime Minister’s approach, having been unequivocal in expressing that the UK supports Israel’s right to defend itself, appears to have shifted to focusing on the humanitarian picture in the region.
During a call with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday, he offered UK support to keep the Egypt-Gaza border open to allow people to leave the 25-mile strip as Israel continues to retaliate.
Downing Street said the military package being sent to the eastern Mediterranean — including the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels Lyme Bay and Argus, three Merlin helicopters and a company of Royal Marines — was a “contingency measure to support humanitarian efforts”, as well as backing-up operations to shore-up stability in the Middle East.
Surveillance flights were expected to start flying over the region on Friday, which No 10 said would look to “track threats to regional stability”, including monitoring for the potential “transfer of weapons to terrorist groups”.
There has been a cross-party call from Westminster politicians for Israel to ease its blockade on basic necessities, with Gaza’s only power station shut down and without fuel.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy tweeted: “Labour fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself, rescue hostages and protect civilians, in line with international law.
“We must distinguish Hamas terrorists from the Palestinian people.
“There must be humanitarian access to Gaza, for food, water, medicines and electricity.”
Alicia Kearns, Conservative chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, told LBC that Tel Aviv has “a duty under international humanitarian law” to ensure that Gaza’s 2.3 million population have access to medical aid and water.
“We can get the humanitarian aid in but no-one else can switch back on water apart from the Israelis,” she said.
The UK Government has announced that, with the situation in Israel and Gaza worsening, it is arranging flights to help British nationals leave Israel.
The first flight was expected to leave the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on Thursday but the Foreign Office suggested none had departed.
A spokeswoman for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “This is a fluid situation, and we are currently working to ensure the flight can proceed as soon as possible.”
The fallout from flare-up of violence has been felt in Britain, with a four-fold rise in antisemitic incidents, according to the Community Security Trust, and a tripling of anti-Muslim cases being recorded by the group Tell Mama UK.
No 10 announced that £3 million in extra funding will be given to provide the Jewish community with additional protection, with strengthened security at schools and synagogues.
Some north London Jewish schools were said to have told parents to keep their children at home on Friday.
Torah Vodaas Primary School in Edgware, Ateres Beis Yaakov Primary School in Colindale, and Menorah High School in Neasden told parents they would not reopen until Monday, according to Sky News.