UK exploring alternative aid routes as Gaza fighting resumes

Credit: PA

The UK is exploring alternative routes to provide aid to Gaza following the breakdown of a week-long truce between Israel and Hamas, the prime minister has said.

Rishi Sunak also renewed calls for “sustained humanitarian pauses” as he met regional leaders on the sidelines of the COP28 summit, in Dubai, on Friday to discuss the ongoing crisis.

At a press conference held before returning to London, Mr Sunak told reporters the UK had tripled aid to the region but was now exploring the possibility of providing aid by sea, as “not enough” was reaching Gaza via Rafah and other border crossings.

The prime minister held talks with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Dubai as well as the leaders of Egypt, Qatar and Jordan to discuss the conflict.

Mr Sunak’s spokesman told reporters: “The discussions were focused on practical steps that can now be taken to both bring about more humanitarian pauses so more hostages can be released, how we can get more aid in as well, while also standing by Israel’s right to self-defence.”

Israel restarted combat operations in the Gaza Strip minutes after a temporary truce expired on Friday, blaming Hamas for breaking the ceasefire.

At Friday’s press conference, the prime minister described the breakdown of the truce as “deeply disappointing” and said he hoped that the Qatar-facilitated process could be resumed.

He said: “We want all hostages released, and in this initial phase all women and children should be freed.

“I’ve said before that the number of civilian casualties and the scale of suffering has been far too high, so the return of hostilities is concerning to us all.”

'The breakdown of the truce is deeply disappointing', Rishi Sunak told reporters in Dubai

While he reiterated his support for Israel’s right to defend itself and pursue Hamas, he said he was “making it clear that Israel must take maximum care to protect civilian life” and supported civilian protection plans set out by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

He said: “We’re opposed to anything that would involve the mass displacement of people. We need to ensure that there are viable, designated areas where safety can be guaranteed and we need to ensure that critical infrastructure like water supplies and hospitals are protected.”

Mr Sunak added that the need to protect civilians had been a “consistent theme” of his discussions with regional leaders during the Dubai summit.

Speaking to broadcasters in Dubai earlier, Mr Sunak said: “We’ve been consistent that we want to see sustained humanitarian pauses so that more aid can get in to the people of Gaza but also the hostages can come out. Those are critical ingredients. And, as we’ve said, everyone needs to adhere to the terms of these agreements.”

Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer said Labour wanted to see “an extension of the cessation of hostilities”.

Speaking to reporters in Dubai, the Labour leader, whose party has been deeply split over whether to back an immediate ceasefire, said: “I think everybody who’s seen the developments today is going to be deeply saddened by it, and what we are calling for even at this late hour is for all sides to try to reach an extension of the cessation of hostilities that we’ve seen over recent days.

“That has provided an opportunity for hostages to be released, for more humanitarian aid to come in, and if it’s extended it also provides the opportunity for progress towards a political settlement here.”

Sir Keir said any further action by Israel must be in accordance with international law as “too many innocent Palestinian lives, particularly children, have already been lost in this conflict”.

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron is attending Cop28 alongside the prime minister and will also talk to counterparts at the event about the issue.

The Israeli military said on Friday that its fighter jets had begun striking Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, 30 minutes after an extended ceasefire expired at 7am (5am GMT).

During the week-long truce, Hamas and other militants in Gaza released more than 100 hostages, most of them Israelis, in return for 240 Palestinians freed from prisons in Israel.

Mediators Qatar and Egypt had sought to prolong the break in fighting by another two days.

Weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign have left more than three-quarters of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million uprooted, leading to a humanitarian crisis.

More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed — roughly two-thirds of them women and children — according to the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.

Some 1,200 Israelis have been killed, mostly during Hamas’s deadly October 7 attack that triggered the war.

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