Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Rishi Sunak backs pauses in fighting in Gaza but rejects ceasefire calls

Palestinians rescue survivors of an Israeli air strike on the Gaza Strip in Rafah (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)
Palestinians rescue survivors of an Israeli air strike on the Gaza Strip in Rafah (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

Rishi Sunak has called for temporary pauses in the conflict between Israel and Hamas to allow British nationals and hostages to be freed and for humanitarian aid to be provided in the Gaza Strip.

But the Prime Minister continued on Wednesday to reject calls for a longer ceasefire, with Downing Street arguing the move would “only serve to benefit Hamas”.

Mr Sunak said “specific pauses” are necessary for humanitarian purposes as Israel pummels the small strip of land, which is home to more than two million Palestinians.

He said such breaks had been discussed at the United Nations as he announced that an RAF plane is flying to Egypt with 21 tonnes of humanitarian supplies.

More than 80 MPs have urged the Government to call for a ceasefire, as five UK nationals remain missing, some of whom are believed to be hostages in Gaza.

Mhairi Black, the SNP’s deputy leader in the Commons, said Britain has a “human responsibility” to all civilians in Gaza but particularly to UK nationals who, she said, are in hospitals in the Gaza Strip with no food, no water, no medicine and “no way out”.

“How much worse does the situation have to get before he will join us in calls for a humanitarian ceasefire?” she asked at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Mr Sunak said “the first and most important principle is that Israel has the right to defend itself under international law” after Hamas’s atrocity on October 7.

“Our support for that position is absolute and unchanged,” he said.

“From the start we’ve also said that we do want British nationals to be able to leave Gaza, and we want for hostages to be released and for humanitarian aid to get in.

“We recognise for all of that to happen there has to be a safer environment which of course necessitates specific pauses as distinct from a ceasefire.”

Mhairi Black
Mhairi Black (Jane Barlow/PA)

Ms Black said joining calls for a ceasefire is the “best and maybe the only way to stop this conflict escalating beyond all control”.

But Mr Sunak said Israel has the “right to protect itself” after suffering a “shockingly brutal terrorist attack” by Hamas.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists: “A wholesale ceasefire would only serve to benefit Hamas.

“Humanitarian pauses, which are temporary, which are limited in scope, can be an operational tool.”

Mr Sunak highlighted the need for fuel in the Gaza Strip, with No 10 saying it is essential for the desalination of water as well as for the transport of medication and running hospitals.

But the spokesman said ministers would want to prevent supplies being “misused in any way, shape or form” amid concerns they could be harnessed by Hamas to be used against Israel.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps later backed a ground invasion by Israel “as long as the people that they are going after are the Hamas terrorists”.

But he told Sky News the group “hide themselves amongst” the Palestinian population and that the UK Government appreciates it is a “very difficult situation”.

Britain dispatched an RAF C-17 aircraft to Egypt from Brize Norton to deliver aid to Palestinian civilians.

The Egyptian Red Crescent was tasked with distributing the cargo of 76,800 wound care packs, 1,350 water filters and 2,560 solar lights.

An RAF C-17 at Brize Norton
An RAF C-17 at Brize Norton (Cpl Matty Matthews/PA)

Mr Sunak said: “Our team are on the ground ready to receive, we will continue to do everything we can do increase the flow of aid – including fuel – into Gaza.”

The Prime Minister has increased aid spending for civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – Gaza and the West Bank – by £30 million to take the total this year to £57 million.

As part of Tel Aviv’s retaliation for Hamas’s raids that left 1,400 Israelis dead, it imposed a siege on the territory, blocking essentials such as water, food and fuel from entering.

Aid trucks have been permitted to reach Palestinians only in the past few days.

British aid charity Oxfam said starvation was being used “as a weapon of war” as it repeated its call for more aid to be allowed into the bombarded 25-mile strip.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees has warned that without immediate deliveries of fuel it will soon have to sharply reduce relief operations for Gaza.

Health officials in the Hamas-ruled territory said on Wednesday that the death toll was soaring as Israeli jets continued striking the territory overnight.

The health ministry said more than 5,700 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, including 2,300 children.

The Israeli military said its strikes had killed militants and destroyed tunnels, command centres, weapons storehouses and other military targets, which it has accused Hamas of hiding among the Gaza Strip’s civilian population.

The continuation of the battle between Tel Aviv and Hamas comes as a UK minister urged UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres to retract remarks that have sparked a diplomatic storm.

Mr Guterres told a UN Security Council meeting in New York on Tuesday that the “attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum”, and had occurred after the Palestinian people had been “subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation”.

The UN chief also expressed concern that “clear violations of international humanitarian law” had been committed by Israel during its fightback.

UK immigration minister Robert Jenrick, a close ally of Mr Sunak, said the comments were “wrong” and Mr Guterres should “retract that” if he was “implying there is any justification for” the killings by Palestinian militants.

The Conservative politician said it was “not for me to say” whether the UN chief should stand down after a call by Israel’s UN ambassador Gilad Erdan for Mr Guterres to resign.