Rishi Sunak is set to fly to Israel tomorrow morning as he appeals to all sides to avoid ‘further dangerous escalation’ of the conflict.
The Prime Minister travels to the region for the start of a two-day trip in which he will voice solidarity with Israel and press the case for allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza.
Mr Sunak is expected to hold talks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and president Isaac Herzog in Tel Aviv tomorrow.
Downing Street said he will then travel on to a ‘number of other regional capitals’ for talks with Arab leaders before returning to the UK on Friday.
No 10 said his exact schedule was still being finalised tonight, but Whitehall sources suggested he hopes to visit Egypt and Jordan.
Rishi Sunak is set to fly to Israel tomorrow morning 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 tomorrow
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’.
Mr Sunak said today: ‘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.
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 £10 million aid package for Gaza this week but there is currently no way of getting humanitarian support into the war zone.
Mr Sunak will arrive in Israel just 24 hours after Arab leaders pulled out of talks with Joe Biden in protest at the hospital blast.
The US President held talks with Mr Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, but a planned visit to Jordan was cancelled by the Jordanians in response to what they called ‘a great calamity and a heinous war crime’.
Mr Biden pinned the blame for the attack on Palestinian 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.