Image source, Reuters
By Chris Mason & Joshua Nevett
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is to visit Israel as world leaders step up efforts to prevent the conflict with Hamas spilling into the wider region.
He will meet Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday before travelling to other regional capitals.
Mr Sunak will offer his condolences for the civilians killed in the deadly Hamas attacks.
He will also press for humanitarian aid to be delivered to Gaza as soon as possible.
“Every civilian death is a tragedy,” the prime minister said ahead of the trip. “And too many lives have been lost following Hamas’s horrific act of terror.”
There had been reports earlier this week that Mr Sunak was planning his first trip to Israel, but he would not confirm his travel arrangements until Wednesday evening.
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will meet leaders in Egypt, Turkey and Qatar in the coming days to seek support for a peaceful resolution in Israel and Gaza.
The foreign secretary will push for an agreement on humanitarian access to Gaza, and the release of British hostages held by Hamas.
Officials have also pointed out that Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has met his US counterpart Lloyd Austin in Washington “to co-ordinate” their approach.
There will be a determination in government to use whatever diplomatic levers they can as quickly as they can, before Israel’s widely anticipated ground offensive in Gaza.
The trips by senior British ministers follow US President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel, which was overshadowed by a deadly blast at a hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday.
Mr Biden said the blast appeared to have been caused by a failed rocket launched by Palestinian militants, backing Israel’s account of the incident.
But Palestinian officials said an Israeli air strike hit the hospital.
At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mr Sunak said British intelligence services were working to establish who was behind the blast, telling MPs not to “rush to judgment”.
In a later statement, Mr Sunak said: “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.”
More on Israel-Gaza war
On the eve of Mr Sunak’s trip, hundreds of protesters attended a vigil outside Downing Street in London for those killed in the hospital blast.
Elsewhere in the capital, King Charles made an impassioned plea for religious tolerance and mutual respect, against the background of “international turmoil” in Israel and Gaza.
The prime minister’s trip comes after Israeli warnings of a ground offensive in Gaza, where there is concern over the humanitarian situation.
Israeli warplanes and artillery have been bombarding Gaza since 1,400 people were killed in the unprecedented Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October.
More than 3,000 people have been killed in numerous air strikes against Gaza by the Israeli military.
Since Hamas’s attacks, Israel has blocked fuel, water, food and medical supplies from entering the territory and is demanding the release of scores of hostages taken into Gaza by Hamas.
More than a million people have been displaced inside Gaza, which is one of the world’s most densely populated territories, where supplies of essentials are in short supply.
President Biden said an agreement had been reached with Israel to allow humanitarian aid to move from Egypt into Gaza. But Israel said it would not allow any aid to pass through its own territory until hostages being held by Hamas are released.
Mr Sunak said the UK was working “round the clock” to free hostages taken by Hamas.
At least seven British nationals have been confirmed dead following the attack on Israel.
The UK government said nine more UK nationals remained missing.