UK defence minister Shapps to visit Middle East to discuss ways to boost aid to Gaza

LONDON (Reuters) – British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps will use a trip to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories to push for humanitarian aid to be delivered faster, including by sea directly into Gaza, his office said on Thursday.

He will discuss with leaders there options to provide civilians in Gaza with more aid, how the UK can support the Palestinian Authority, the recovery of hostages, as well as efforts to prevent further escalation in the Middle East.

“We are working to find the best way to get aid and support to those in desperate need in the quickest and most direct route. That includes options by land, sea and air,” Shapps said.

Earlier this week Shapps said Britain was considering sending military support vessel RFA Lyme Bay to provide medical and humanitarian aid in the Middle East.

Shapps is due to meet the Interior Minister of the Palestinian Authority, General Ziad Hab Al-Reeh, to discuss the need for measures to improve security for Palestinians in the West Bank, his office said, while in Tel Aviv he will meet Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant “to address the current security situation and Israel’s next steps”.

Shapps will also visit Kibbutz Kfar Aza in southern Israel which was attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7.

Israel unleashed its military campaign in response to a surprise Oct. 7 incursion by Hamas fighters who rampaged through Israeli towns, killing 1,200 people and seizing 240 hostages, according to Israel’s tally.

Figures relayed by Gaza’s Health Ministry put the death toll in Gaza since then at 16,015, including 43 reported by one hospital on Tuesday and 73 by another on Wednesday. But Reuters has since Monday been unable to reach the ministry spokesperson who has provided daily casualty updates for all of Gaza, leaving it unclear whether the new overall toll was comprehensive.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Diane Craft)