Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrived in Tel Aviv for a two-day visit to the wider region, as the UK joined the procession of foreign leaders visiting Israel in a bid to prevent the conflict from widening.
(Bloomberg) — Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrived in Tel Aviv for a two-day visit to the wider region, as the UK joined the procession of foreign leaders visiting Israel in a bid to prevent the conflict from widening.
The premier arrived at Ben Gurion airport early Thursday ahead of meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog. He’s then due to head a “number of other regional capitals,” according to his office, which didn’t set out which countries the premier intends to visit.
“I grieve with you and stand with you against the evil that is terrorism,” Sunak said in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, shortly after his arrival in Israel. “Today, and always.”
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With the death toll mounting in Gaza amid an Israeli bombardment that followed Hamas’s incursion into southern Israel this month, Western leaders are seeking to avoid the conflict sucking in other countries. That’s especially after a blast at a hospital Tuesday in Gaza that Palestinian officials said killed hundreds. Israel and Hamas have issued rival claims about who was responsible.
Sunak’s visit follows others by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday and US President Joe Biden on Wednesday. French President Emmanuel Macron has said he will travel to the region “as soon as I consider that we have a useful agenda and very concrete actions to drive forward.”
Earlier Wednesday, Sunak said British intelligence was working rapidly to establish who was behind the blast at the Gaza hospital. Speaking in Parliament, he urged MPs not to “rush to judgment.”
Hamas — designated a terrorist group by the European Union, the UK and the US — blames Israel for the explosion, while Israel’s army says the hospital was struck in a failed missile attack by militants from the Islamic Jihad group. Anti-Israel protests broke out in several major cities around the region.
As Sunak prepares to meet other leaders in the region, he also faces complicated domestic politics to navigate. The Israel-Hamas conflict has led to a surge of reports of anti-Semitic incidents, as well as those of Islamophobia, the Metropolitan Police has said. UK Security Minister Tom Tugendhat alluded to that when he said Thursday British intelligence hadn’t reached a conclusion on who was responsible for the hospital explosion.
“We’re going to be getting this right because the cost in terms of the loss of a peace opportunity or increased community tensions in the UK is too high of a price to pay,” he told Times Radio.
Sunak planned to demonstrate the UK’s support for Israel, work on the release of British hostages and push for support to be provided to Palestinians in Gaza. “I’m sure he’s working for a peaceful solution,” Tugendhat said, when asked by Sky News if Sunak would push for a cease-fire.
On Wednesday, both the UK and Russia abstained on a UN Security Council resolution calling for “humanitarian pauses” to deliver aid to Gaza, which was vetoed by the US but backed by the 12 other members.
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is also touring the Middle East, starting in Egypt on Thursday. He will press the Egyptians to open the Rafah border crossing from Gaza to allow foreign nationals to leave.
“It is in no one’s interests — neither Israeli, Palestinian nor the wider Middle East — for others to be drawn into this conflict,” Cleverly said in a statement.
The foreign secretary is also expected to visit Qatar to discuss helping British nationals to leave the narrow strip of land between Israel and the Mediterranean. A stopover in Turkey will focus on the nation’s connections with Hamas’s leadership in order to prevent violence spiraling in the region.
(Updates with Sunak comment in third paragraph.)
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