British PM Rishi Sunak backs pause in Gaza conflict to allow aid in

By Andrew MacAskill and Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday he supported a humanitarian pause in the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas to allow the safe delivery of aid to civilians, but he rejected calls for a full ceasefire.

Israel’s military intensified its bombing of southern Gaza overnight after one of the deadliest days for Palestinians since the conflict began.

Sunak told parliament that Israel has the right to respond militarily to Hamas’s attack earlier this month – the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust.

The prime minister also said the government wanted Hamas to release Israeli hostages, help Britons leave Gaza, and ensure humanitarian aid could make it to those in need.

“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,” Sunak said to lawmakers at a weekly parliamentary question and answer session.

Britain had discussed with other countries on Tuesday at the United Nations a possible humanitarian pause, he said.

Later on Wednesday a plane landed in Egypt to deliver humanitarian supplies to people in Gaza.

The United States has been pushing for shorter breaks in the fighting while Russia has advocated for a complete ceasefire.

Sunak’s spokesman said a full ceasefire would only benefit Hamas adding that Sunak disagreed with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres over comments that attacks by Hamas earlier this month “did not happen in a vacuum”.

“We are clear there is and can be no justification for Hamas’ barbaric terrorist attack,” he said, though Guterres later denied he sought to justify the Hamas attack.

The British government and leadership of the opposition Labour Party have said that Israel has a right to defend itself, though some Labour lawmakers say they support a ceasefire.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said aid must get in to Gaza to meet a “humanitarian emergency on the ground”.

“That’s why we have repeatedly said that aid, fuel, water, electricity and medicines must be urgently ramped up,” Starmer said in a statement. “It is incumbent on all parties to make sure that the aid and utilities don’t just get in but reach those who need them.”

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill and Alistair Smout; Editing by Sachin Ravikumar and Deepa Babington)