Rishi Sunak has warned that the Israel-Hamas war risks unleashing a “contagion of conflict” across the Middle East.
The Prime Minister, who visited Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt for talks with key regional players this week, said the leaders agreed “we need to do everything possible” to prevent the spread of the war.
He said his two-day visit to the region demonstrated “that the UK stands in solidarity with them against terrorism” and that “there can be no justification” for the atrocities committed by Hamas.
“I wanted to sit down with other leaders and talk face to face. Because in times of tension and division, it’s more important than ever to accelerate diplomatic efforts,” he added.
He said the opening of the border crossing with Egypt to allow an aid convoy into the Gaza Strip was an example of what could be achieved.
“The reopening of the Rafah crossing into Gaza is testament to the power of diplomacy, with the US, Israel and Egypt brokering an agreement to ensure vital aid reaches the Palestinian people.
“We’re working closely with Egypt to ensure that the UK plays our part in ensuring those Palestinians get the food, water and medicine they so desperately need.
“The overwhelming view I got from everyone I spoke to this week was that we need to do everything possible to stop a contagion of conflict in the region.
“We need to keep our aspirations for a more peaceful and stable future firmly in our sights as we work together to defeat the evil of terrorism.”
The Prime Minister’s comments came after 100,000 people marched through central London in support of the Palestinian people in response to Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said he wanted Britons trapped in Gaza to be able to leave through the Rafah crossing but acknowledged it was not yet safe enough to do so.
“Ultimately, we want to see the Rafah crossing safe enough that foreign nationals in Gaza are able to leave,” he told the Sunday Times.
“We are only going to call British nationals forward when we are confident that there will be a long enough period for them to credibly, safely leave Gaza and we are not yet in that position.”
He said officials were working “very, very closely with the Egyptian government, with the Qataris and other players in the region — including Israel, of course — to try and get to a situation where there is enough stability, for long enough, to give British nationals a credible opportunity to leave”.
At a peace summit in Cairo on Saturday, Mr Cleverly said Israel had the right to defend itself against Hamas in Gaza.
But with the Israeli military preparing a ground offensive, Mr Cleverly said they needed to show “discipline, professionalism and restraint” in actions against Hamas.
“The UK is clear and has been consistently clear that Israel has the right to self-defence and the right to secure the release of those who were kidnapped on October 7,” Mr Cleverly said.
“And we are also clear that we must work, and they must work, to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza, and that their actions are in accordance with international law.”
Mr Cleverly said he had raised the need to protect civilians with the Tel Aviv government.
He added: “Despite the incredibly difficult circumstances, I have called for discipline and professionalism and restraint from the Israeli military.”
The Gaza Strip has been blockaded and bombarded by Israel after its Hamas rulers launched a series of terrorist raids on October 7.
The frontier with Egypt at Rafah was opened on Saturday morning to let 20 trucks of desperately needed aid flow to Palestinians running short of food, medicine and water in the territory.
Hundreds of foreign passport-holders have been trying to leave the besieged territory.
ActionAid Palestine spokeswoman Riham Jafari said the Rafah crossing convoy was “barely a drop in the ocean” and called for a ceasefire and the opening of humanitarian corridors.
“Aid trucks also did not bring with them the fuel needed to power hospitals, keep ambulances moving, or to pump water from the ground,” she added.
The opening of the Rafah crossing followed another major development when Hamas freed an American woman and her teenage daughter it had held hostage in the Gaza Strip, the first such release from among around 200 people the militant group abducted during its October 7 raids on southern Israel.
Hamas said it released Judith Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie for humanitarian reasons in an agreement with the Qatar government.
Mr Cleverly said: “We are grateful to the governments who are seeking to intercede on behalf of those held hostage and those foreign nationals who are trapped in Gaza, and we are grateful for the work to ensure that the humanitarian aid – which much which many of us have partially funded – reaches those Gazans who are deeply in need.”
In London, pro-Palestinian protesters chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, despite an ongoing controversy around the slogan’s meaning.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has previously branded the slogan antisemitic and claimed it is “widely understood” to call for the destruction of Israel.
But the Metropolitan Police said “while we can envisage scenarios where chanting these words could be unlawful” – such as outside a synagogue or Jewish school – its use in a wider protest “would not be an offence and would not result in arrests”.
Published: by Radio NewsHub