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Rishi Sunak said the UK stood in solidarity with Israel “during its darkest hour” as he spoke alongside Benjamin Netanyahu on the first day of a visit to the Middle East, telling him: “We want you to win.”
He said he recognised that Israel had gone through something no country should endure, “least of all Israel”, and the UK supported its right to defend itself in line with international law and to “go after Hamas”.
He said the Palestinian people are “victims of Hamas too” and stressed the need for humanitarian support to reach Gaza.
Mr Sunak is the latest international leader to visit Israel, arriving a day after US President Joe Biden. Mr Sunak was embarking on a two-day visit to the Middle East in which he also met the families of Israelis held hostage by Hamas. He will also travel to Saudi Arabia to meet Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is also visiting the region.
“I know that you are taking every precaution to avoid harming civilians, in direct contrast to the terrorists of Hamas which seeks to put civilians in harm's way,” Mr Sunak said alongside Mr Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
“I welcome your decision yesterday that you took to ensure that routes into Gaza will be opened for humanitarian aid to enter … I'm proud to stand here with you. In Israel's darkest hour as your friend. We will stand with you in solidarity. We will stand with your people and we also want you to win.”
In a post on X, formerly Twitter, he said: “I am in Israel, a nation in grief. I grieve with you and stand with you against the evil that is terrorism. Today, and always.”
Mr Netanyahu recalled Britain’s part in the Second World War as he urged for “continuous” UK support during what he predicted would be a “long war” against Hamas.
He said the attack from Gaza by Hamas, which killed 1,400 people in Israel, was aimed at derailing attempts to establish a wider peace in the region.
“We were on the cusp of expanding that peace, and destroying that move was one of the reasons why this action was taken,” he said.
Downing Street said that Mr Sunak's message during the trip was to stress that any civilian death is tragic. He is expected to tell fellow leaders that Hamas’s actions must not become a catalyst for further escalation of conflict in the region.
As he arrived, he said he stands with Israel “against the evil that is terrorism”.
He also met Israel President Isaac Herzog, telling him he had “not just a right” but a “duty” to “restore security to your country”.
Following a meeting with the head of state, the Mr Sunak said: “We will stand with you in solidarity with your people and your right to defend yourself to bring security back to your country, to your people, to ensure the safe return of the hostages that have been taken and I know we will talk further about that later on.”
He added: “You have not just a right to do that, I think you have a duty to do that, to restore that security to your country.”
Mr Herzog expressed his gratitude to Rishi Sunak for “your support and your decisions and your leadership”.
Downing Street said: “The Prime Minister and President Herzog agreed on the importance of getting urgent humanitarian support to ordinary Palestinians in Gaza who are also suffering. The Prime Minister welcomed yesterday’s announcement that Israel would not stop aid from entering Gaza. He expressed his sincere hope that further progress could be made on delivering crucial food, water and medicine.”
The Prime Minister's visit follows Israel’s announcement that a route into Gaza will be opened up to allow humanitarian aid to enter.
He also thanked Mr Herzog for the support Israel has provided to British nationals caught up in the attacks, including to the families of those who have been taken hostage.
“The Prime Minister and President Herzog stressed the imperative need to avoid further escalation of violence in the region,” a spokesman said.
Mr Sunak met with families whose loved ones have been held hostage by Hamas following the attacks on October 7.
In a post on X, Rishi Sunak was pictured hugging a woman, who was not identified.
The post said: “To have a child taken from you is a parent’s worst nightmare.
“This morning I heard from families going through this unbearable agony.
“Working with our partners, we’re determined to secure the release of the hostages taken by Hamas terrorists.”
The latest from the Israel-Gaza war – in pictures
James Cleverly to meet leaders in Egypt, Turkey and Qatar
The Foreign Secretary will meet the leaders who are vital to international efforts to uphold regional stability, free hostages and allow humanitarian access to Gaza.
As he arrived, he shared his goals on X: “Secure the release of British hostages, stop the violence spreading to the region and ensure emergency aid can get into Gaza.”
Mr Cleverly will discuss the need for the Rafah crossing to open so that aid can reach Gaza.
“It is in no one’s interests – neither Israeli, Palestinian nor the wider Middle East – for others to be drawn into this conflict,” Mr Cleverly said before the trip.
In the House of Commons on Wednesday, he urged people to “wait for the facts” about what caused the explosion at Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza.
“Getting this wrong would put even more lives at risk. Wait for the facts, report them clearly and accurately. Cool heads must prevail.”
Earlier this week, a £10 million ($12m) aid package was announced by the Prime Minister in response to the escalating conflict in Gaza – with funding now being made available to agencies helping vulnerable civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
This is an increase of more than a third of existing UK support to the OPTs. Half the new funding will support an appeal by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine, which is responding to critical food, water, health, shelter and protection needs in Gaza.
The UK government said it remains committed to mitigating the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza and called for international humanitarian law to be respected while standing alongside the people of Israel against Hamas.