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RAF to fly 'very sophisticated' surveillance missions over Gaza to help Israel find remaining Hamas hostages
3 December 2023, 09:15 | Updated: 3 December 2023, 09:27
British planes will fly over Gaza to help Israel find the remaining hostages taken by Hamas.
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The government said that the RAF surveillance planes would only be used to search for the 135 hostages the Israeli government says are still held by Hamas.
The seven-day truce that ended on Friday saw 110 hostages released in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners let out of Israeli prisons.
Israel has concentrated more on the south of Gaza since fighting restarted two days ago.
The government said that the RAF planes would not be used for combat purposes, and that any information that they pick up that is unrelated to the whereabouts of the hostages would not be passed on to Israel.
Richard Kemp describes new drone technology that can help find hostages in Gaza
Colonel Richard Kemp, a former member of the government's Cobra high-level crisis response committee, said that the planes themselves have a "combination" of high-tech systems that they would use to look for the hostages.
He told LBC's Matthew Wright on Sunday: "The RAF has very sophisticated surveillance sensors in their planes, which include capability of using infrared, thermal imaging and other heat-seeking sensors to identify heat sources, as well as photographic reconnaissance.
"That in itself sounds basic but when given very sophisticated camera equipment and extremely sophisticated computerised ability to analyse the photography, it does sometimes yield incredible results."
He added that they would also be using "electronic surveillance of phone calls and radio communications".
Col Kemp said that the IDF "also has similar equipment, but I think it’s true to say the more surveillance you can place over an area, the more you’re likely to get pinpoint-accurate intelligence on the target, and that’s absolutely vital in this situation."
Asked by Matthew how they could differentiate between hostages, Hamas terrorists, and innocent civilians, Col Kemp said: "It’s a combination of human technology, which as I mentioned includes electronic surveillance, but also human sources.
"The IDF or Israel have human intelligence sources on the ground in Gaza as well, in other words their own agents as well working for them."
Pressed on how accurate the Israeli information could be, given the large proportion of civilian deaths in Gaza, Col Kemp said that even figures issued by the CIA "have to be treated with caution".
He added: "I don’t think you can rely on those figures, even though they come from the CIA, because the percentage of terrorists killed versus civilians is going to be an estimate by them - the raw figures come from Hamas, they don’t have any other source of information about casualties.
"It’s certainly going to be true that a large number of civilians are going to be killed. Let’s not forget that tragically civilians die in every conflict. The United Nations have given the estimate of nine civilians killed for every combatant in every war since the Second World War.
"In Afghanistan and Iraq the figures ranged from between three and five to one… So if the civilians are achieving a one-to-one then that’s terrible for the civilians involved of course but nevertheless testimony to the way they operate."
Announcing the use of RAF planes, the government said: "In support of the ongoing hostage rescue activity, the UK Ministry of Defence will conduct surveillance flights over the eastern Mediterranean, including operating in air space over Israel and Gaza.
"Surveillance aircraft will be unarmed, do not have a combat role, and will be tasked solely to locate hostages.
"Only information relating to hostage rescue will be passed to the relevant authorities responsible for hostage rescue."