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Sunak lands in Tel Aviv. Twitter
Tel Aviv

Rishi Sunak tells Benjamin Netanyahu 'we want you to win' during visit to Israel

The UK Prime Minister also welcomed the decision to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

LAST UPDATE | 19 Oct 2023

UK PRIME MINISTER Rishi Sunak has told Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu that he welcomed the decision to allow aid into Gaza.

Sunak, who No 10 confirmed will travel to Saudi Arabia later today, thanked Netanyahu for Tel Aviv’s support in attempting to free British nationals who are being held hostage by Hamas and said the UK wants Israel to win its battle against the militant group.

Sunak has followed US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s lead in travelling to Israel to personally offer condolences for Hamas’s attack on 7 October which left hundreds of Israelis dead and saw almost 200 people taken hostage.

Ahead of meetings with Netanyahu and Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Sunak met the families of British hostages.

In a press conference following his meeting with Netanyahu, Sunak said: “I want to thank you for the support that your government has given to the families of British nationals caught up in this horror, including your efforts to release the hostages, to secure their release.

“And I know that we will continue to cooperate, particularly with regard to British nationals that are involved.

He also welcomed Netanyahu’s decision, after lobbying by Biden, to allow Israel to start letting aid into Gaza.

It marks a potential break in a punishing siege on the territory after Israel’s retaliation on Hamas saw it block access for water, food, electricity and other essential supplies to the 25-mile strip, while also carrying out strikes.

During his meeting with Herzog, Sunak said: “Palestinians are victims of what Hamas has done and it’s important that we continue to provide humanitarian access.”

Addressing the media after meeting with Netanyahu, Sunak reiterated that Palestinians living in Gaza are victims of Hamas and welcomed the decision to ensure that routes into the enclave will be opened for humanitarian aid to enter.  

“I’m glad that you made that decision. We will support it, we are increasing our aid to the region and we will look to get more support to people as quickly as we can,” he said.

In his own address, Netanyahu recalled Britain’s part in the Second World War as he urged “continuous” UK support during a war that he said is likely to have “ups and downs”.

He told Sunak during their joint press conference: “Eighty years ago, Prime Minister, the civilised world stood with you in your darkest hour.

“This is our darkest hour. It is the world’s darkest hour. We need to stand together and we will win.

“And this is why I support… I value your support and the fact that you’re here – we must win together.”

Sunak said he was “proud to stand here with you in Israel’s darkest hour as your friend”.

He added: “We will stand with you in solidarity, we will stand with your people. And we also want you to win.”

No 10 confirmed that Sunak will next travel to Saudi Arabia, an influential player in the Middle East, to hold talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The British leader’s two-day trip is expected to allow Sunak to make his plea for Hamas’s incursion, and Israel’s subsequent reply, not to spark a wider conflict in the volatile region.

It comes as the UK continues to go through the evidence before coming to a conclusion over who was responsible for the bombing of al Ahli hospital in Gaza City, a blast that left hundreds dead.

With both sides blaming each other – and the US backing Israel’s protestations – Downing Street said Britain’s intelligence services are still “reviewing the facts available”.

Speaking to broadcasters after his conversation with the Israeli premier – which UK media was shut out of – Sunak said Hamas “represent pure evil” following its chilling assault, as he defended Israel’s right to self-defence.

But he stressed that “no-one wants to see” the “barbaric act of terrorism” lead to further violence.

“It is important that the conflict doesn’t escalate regionally. That is why I’m talking to as many people as I can across the region,” he said.

“I’ve already done that and I’ll be able to see more people in person on this trip.

“No-one wants to see this conflict escalate. And indeed the UK has sent various military assets into the Mediterranean to prevent regional escalation.

“Some of our surveillance aircraft, for example, are ensuring that arms shipments don’t find their way to people like Hezbollah.”

The UK Foreign Office has since updated its travel guidance to Lebanon, home to Hamas ally Hezbollah and a country that shares a border with Israel, advising against all travel to the country and encouraging British nationals currently there to “leave now while commercial options remain available”.

Rami Mortada, Lebanon’s ambassador to the UK, said the Israeli-Hamas conflict is “out of everybody’s hands” and has the “potential to spill into a regional conflict”.

He told Times Radio: “If the situation in Gaza worsens, it would be very difficult to contain the conflict in its original theatre of operation.”

In parallel to Sunak’s travel, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will visit Egypt, Turkey and Qatar in the coming days to underscore the UK’s message.

Cleverly said: “It is in no one’s interests – neither Israeli, Palestinian nor the wider Middle East – for others to be drawn into this conflict.

“I am meeting counterparts from influential states in the region to push for calm and stability, facilitate humanitarian access into Gaza and work together to secure the release of hostages.”

Press Association