Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has landed in Tel Aviv, Israel, for a two-day visit. He will urge Middle East leaders to “avoid further dangerous escalation” as too many lives have been lost in the conflict with Hamas. In a meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Mr. Sunak stressed the “imperative need to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control.”
The PM also met families of those whom the Islamist group has taken hostage, and he has praised efforts to secure their release. He and Mr Herzog agreed on the need to ensure that Palestinians can get vital food, water, and energy into Gaza, which is currently under a severe blockade despite Israel’s promise to let in supplies.
During his visit, the PM also met with the UK ambassador to the US, Matthew Gould, where they discussed “the horror unleashed on Israeli citizens by Hamas’ barbarous attack on 7 October”. In a statement, Downing Street said that the pair underlined the importance of preventing the conflict from spreading beyond its immediate area and that “it is essential that a ceasefire is restored as soon as possible.”
In a speech to his new staff in Jerusalem, the PM reiterated Britain’s “firm and unwavering” support for Israel: “We will stand with Israel, not just today but forever. And we will help them to defeat Hamas – the modern barbarians, the worst monsters on this planet.”
But while he hailed the “fierce commitment of the Israeli people to defend their security” and the “strength and steadfastness of our allies in Israel,” he also pointed out that it is “unacceptable for Hamas to fire rockets at innocent civilians. It is a violation of international law.”
Mr Sunak, who arrived at the start of what No ten hopes will be an intense diplomatic push to prevent the Israel-Hamas war from spilling over into other countries, will later meet with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman as well as Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister Thani Al-Sharay. He will also talk with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who is visiting Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar this week to underline the UK’s message.
The trip will test the strength of support for Israel amongst voters, with Mr Sunak arriving just days before by-elections in Leicester East and Tamworth, which could determine the fate of dozens of Labour seats. The PM was due to speak to voters in both constituencies on Thursday evening, although his visit will mean he is away from the country when the results are announced on Friday morning.
Earlier, Mr Sunak visited a Jewish school in north London to show his support for a community devastated by the horrors Hamas visited on Israel. He signed a book of condolence and wrote that his heart ‘aches for the people of Israel.’ Afterward, he met with members of the local Jewish community to discuss “the threats against them and the hateful antisemitism which is being shown on our streets.” Mr Sunak branded those who called for jihad at this weekend’s demonstrations a threat to the Jewish community and the UK’s democratic values.