Rishi Sunak says UK 'deeply concerned' after Israel take control of Rafah crossing into Gaza

7 May 2024, 17:34

Rishi Sunak has said that the UK is deeply concerned about Israel's activity in Rafah
Rishi Sunak has said that the UK is deeply concerned about Israel's activity in Rafah. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Rishi Sunak has said the UK is "deeply concerned" about Israel's military activity in Gaza after the IDF said it had taken control of the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing on Tuesday.

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Mr Sunak urged both Israel and Hamas to "continue talking" despite Israel saying earlier that it had rejected a Hamas ceasefire proposal as a "ruse".

A Foreign Office minister said the UK had not seen a "credible plan to protect civilians" in Rafah, where around a million people have been taking shelter from the war.

The Prime Minister said: "I've urged all parties to continue talking, negotiating and getting around the table, which they are doing.

"We need to give them the space to conclude these negotiations.

"We've been consistent in saying we want to see an immediate humanitarian pause so we can crucially get more aid in and release the hostages, and then use that pause to build a more lasting ceasefire. 

"That's been the efforts of all our diplomatic engagement."

Read more: Israel takes control of Rafah crossing in Gaza after dismissing Hamas' ceasefire proposal as 'ruse'

Read more: Israel orders 100,000 Palestinians to evacuate Rafah ahead of 'imminent' invasion

Smoke rises from a shopping centre following an Israeli airstrike on Rafah
Smoke rises from a shopping centre following an Israeli airstrike on Rafah. Picture: Getty

More than a million Palestinians have found refuge in Rafah amid the war in Gaza, with charities warning of a humanitarian crisis if the city came under fire.

And a Foreign Office minister later insisted that Israel must ensure "immediate, uninterrupted humanitarian access" in the south of Gaza despite the crossing being taken.

Lord Ahmad said: "We are deeply concerned about the prospect of a military incursion given the number of civilians that are sheltering there and the importance of Rafah in terms of crossing for aid.

"It and other crossing points for humanitarian aid... must be reopened quickly to allow essential aid in. Israel must facilitate immediate, uninterrupted humanitarian access in the south, including on the entry of fuel and ensure the protection of civilians and safe passage who wish to leave Rafah.

"As yet we have not seen a credible plan to protect civilians."

He added: "Israel has now committed to significant steps to increase the amount of aid getting into Gaza. We now need to see this turned into action to ensure aid actually gets over the border and that it's safely and properly distributed."

Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would "continue until the absolute victory" over Hamas, after his country's army moved into Rafah.

Smoke rises from a shopping centre following an Israeli airstrike on Rafah
Smoke rises from a shopping centre following an Israeli airstrike on Rafah. Picture: Getty

The IDF said earlier that the Rafah crossing had been captured and cut off, with special forces now in the area.

It said 20 gunmen were killed and three tunnel shafts had been discovered by troops.

Israel's war cabinet confirmed late Monday that it had begun targeted strikes against Hamas in eastern Rafah.

World leaders previously urged Mr Netanyahu against the strikes on Rafah, warning of a humanitarian disaster.

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike on residential building in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Ismael Abu Dayyah)
Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike on residential building in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Ismael Abu Dayyah). Picture: Alamy

Hamas said on Monday it would accept the latest Gaza ceasefire proposal, mediated by Egypt and Qatar.

But Israel indicated it would not agree to the "softened" deal.

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said the government is 'very concerned' about the ongoing situation in Gaza.

"The government is doing all that we can, diplomatically, to try and encourage this deal to stick," he said.

Smoke rises after an Israeli air strike on the east of the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, May 6, 2024
Smoke rises after an Israeli air strike on the east of the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, May 6, 2024. Picture: Alamy

Read More: Israel orders 100,000 Palestinians to evacuate Rafah ahead of 'imminent' invasion

Read More: Israel-Hamas ceasefire talks break down and spark fears of imminent invasion of Rafah by IDF

Ofir Gendleman, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said on X that the proposal for the ceasefire is “far from Israel’s necessary demands,” but that a delegation will still be sent to meet negotiators.

Responding to Hamas's announcement, an Israeli official granted anonymity told Reuters that the deal had been 'softened' and was not acceptable to Israel as it includes "far-reaching" conclusions.

“This would appear to be a ruse intended to make Israel look like the side refusing a deal," the Israeli official said.

Agreeing to the latest ceasefire proposal, Hamas said in its statement earlier: “The mujahid brother Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas movement’s political bureau, had a phone call with the Qatari Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani, and with the Egyptian Minister of Intelligence, Abbas Kamel, and informed them of the Hamas movement’s approval of their proposal regarding the ceasefire agreement.”

Hamas said the ceasefire proposal includes three phases, each lasting 42 days.

The first phase would include a truce that would involve Hamas releasing 33 hostages in return for Israel releasing Palestinians from Israeli jails.

Israel would also withdraw troops partially from Gaza while also allowing the free movement of Palestinians from south to north Gaza.

A second phase then includes the approval of a permanent cease on the use of military and hostile operations and Israel's complete withdrawal from Gaza. Hamas would also release Israeli reservists and some soldiers in return for Israel releasing more Palestinians from jail.

A third phase includes a provision approving an end to the blockade of Gaza and the completion of exchanging hostages and prisoners.

Talks around a ceasefire have been ongoing for some time, with Israel demanding the return of hostages currently being held in captivity by Hamas.

An official for Hamas earlier said the ball was "now in Israel's court" and the government must now decide whether it accepts or "obstructs" a truce in Gaza.

"After Hamas agreed to the mediators' proposal for a ceasefire, the ball is now in the court of Israeli occupation, whether it will agree to the ceasefire agreement or obstruct it," the official, granted anonymity, told the AFP news agency.

Cheers rang out in Gaza following news that Hamas had accepted the deal. Children were pictured jumping up and down outside the al-Aqsa hospital in central Gaza while others banged together pots and pans in celebration.

Hamas is thought to still hold more than 90 alive hostages from its October 7 onslaught. Mr Netanyahu has been under pressure to oversee their return to the country.

It comes as the Israeli army confirmed it was "currently conducting targeted strikes against Hamas terror targets in eastern Rafah" after ordered about 100,000 Palestinians to evacuate the southern Gaza city.

“The war cabinet unanimously decided that Israel would continue the operation in Rafah in order to exert military pressure on Hamas,” Mr Gendleman said, adding that it aims to "push forward the release of our kidnappers and achieving the goals of the war”.

Palestinians celebrate in a streets of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, after Hamas announced it has accepted a truce proposal, May 6, 2024
Palestinians celebrate in a streets of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, after Hamas announced it has accepted a truce proposal, May 6, 2024. Picture: Getty
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh speaks during a press briefing, March 26, 2024
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh speaks during a press briefing, March 26, 2024. Picture: Alamy

Around a million Palestinians have found refuge in Rafah after Israel's strikes and military actions across the region, where people have been huddled into tents and overcrowded living spaces.

The conflict has driven around 80 per cent of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million from their homes and has destroyed several cities.

More than 34,500 people have been killed in Gaza, according to local health officials.

Israeli officials said those being ordered to evacuate Rafah would move from the city to a nearby Israel-declared humanitarian zone called Muwasi, a makeshift camp on the coast.

Tensions also escalated on Sunday when Hamas fired rockets at Israeli troops on the border with Gaza near Israel's main crossing for delivering humanitarian aid, killing four soldiers. Meanwhile, Israeli air strikes on Rafah killed 22 people, including children and two infants, according to a hospital.

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