British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak offered Israeli President Isaac Herzog his country’s solidarity on Thursday, saying London supported Israel’s right to defend itself while also calling for humanitarian access to Gaza after the attack by Hamas.
The two leaders underlined the need to avoid an escalation of violence in the region, which has seen angry demonstrations in some Middle Eastern countries over an explosion at a hospital in Gaza which Palestinians blamed on Israel.Israel denies it carried out the attack and U.S. President Joe Biden said U.S. evidence supported the Israeli account that it was caused by a failed rocket launch by Palestinian fighters.
“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,” Sunak said in a televised part of the meeting with Herzog.
“Palestinians are victims of what Hamas has done. It’s important that we continue to provide humanitarian access.”
At least seven British nationals have been killed and at least nine are still missing since the attack on Israel, Sunak’s spokesperson said on Wednesday.
Herzog thanked Sunak and said his presence offered a “kind of support for the fact that we are there to uproot the military capabilities of this enemy, so that we can bring back decent, honest, innocent people to live back on the border and live in peace with our Palestinian neighbours”.
Sunak is the latest Western leader to visit Jerusalem to not only show support for Israel but to try to negotiate a way to secure the release of hostages taken by Hamas and provide those in Gaza with humanitarian aid.
“The Prime Minister and President Herzog stressed the imperative need to avoid further escalation of violence in the region. They agreed to continue working together to that end,” Sunak’s office said in a statement.Sunak was due to visit other regional capitals after Israel – a trip which coincided with one made by his foreign secretary, James Cleverly, who will travel to Egypt, Turkey and Qatar over the next three days. The flurry of diplomacy is a step change from what some commentators say has been a decade of declining British influence in the Middle East, with London being seen as a junior partner of the United States. The last British Prime Minister to visit Israel and the occupied West Bank was David Cameron in 2014. In 2022, the Government quietly axed a ministerial post dedicated to relations with the Middle East, combining that role with North Africa, South Asia and the United Nations.Cleverly, who visited Israel last week, will meet the leaders of Egypt, Turkey and Qatar, countries which Britain said were “vital to international efforts to uphold regional stability, free hostages and allow humanitarian access to Gaza”.