'We want you to win': Rishi Sunak says he 'supports Israel's right to defend itself' and 'go after Hamas'

19 October 2023, 12:19 | Updated: 19 October 2023, 14:33

Rishi Sunak spoke to Israel's PM and president
Rishi Sunak spoke to Israel's PM and president. Picture: Social media/Alamy/Getty

By Emma Soteriou

Rishi Sunak has said he "supports Israel's right to defend itself" and "go after Hamas" in a joint conference with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

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The Prime Minister arrived in Israel on Thursday as part of a wider two-day trip to the Middle East, during which he will visit other regional capitals.

He spoke to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog during his visit, appearing in a joint conference with the PM.

Mr Netanyahu said Hamas "are the new Nazis" and the war in the Middle East was a "battle for the free world".

"We have two forces here. One is an act of evil led by Iran which want to bring the Middle East back to the middle ages," he said.

"The other force is a force of progress and humanity."

Speaking to Mr Sunak, he said Israel needs the UK's support and "unity across the board".

Mr Sunak said he "supports Israel's right to defend itself in line with international law" and "go after Hamas".

"I know you are taking every precaution to avoid harming civilians in direct contract to the terrorists of Hamas which seek to put civilians in harms way," he said.

Mr Sunak concluded the conference saying: "I'm proud to stand here with you in Israel's darkest hour, as your friend.

"We will stand with you in solidarity, we will stand with your people. And we also want you to win."

Addressing the meeting between the pair before the conference, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “[The PM] underscored the UK’s firm belief in Israel’s right to self-defence in accordance with international humanitarian law, as they work to end the threat of Hamas and secure the freedom of hundreds of Israeli hostages.

He "thanked Prime Minister Netanyahu for his support for the British nationals who have been taken by Hamas and both leaders agreed to work closely together to secure their freedom".

The spokesperson added: “Both leaders underscored the need to prevent any regional escalation in the conflict and the importance of restoring peace and stability to the region.”

Mr Sunak also spoke to President Isaac Herzog whereby he "expressed his personal condolences for the horrific loss of life in Israel as a result of Hamas' terrorism".

He told the president he had "not just a right" but a "duty" to "restore security to your country".

Following a meeting with the head of state, he said: "We will stand with you in solidarity with your people and your right to defend yourself to bring security back to your country, to your people, to ensure the safe return of the hostages that have been taken and I know we will talk further about that later on."

He added: "You have not just a right to do that, I think you have a duty to do that, to restore that security to your country."

A Downing Street spokesperson added: "The Prime Minister and President Herzog agreed on the importance of getting urgent humanitarian support to ordinary Palestinians in Gaza who are also suffering.

"The Prime Minister welcomed yesterday’s announcement that Israel would not stop aid from entering Gaza. He expressed his sincere hope that further progress could be made on delivering crucial food, water and medicine.

"The Prime Minister conveyed his gratitude to President Herzog for the support Israel has provided to British nationals caught up in the attacks, including to the families of those who have been taken hostage. The leaders agreed to continue working tirelessly to secure their release.

"The Prime Minister and President Herzog stressed the imperative need to avoid further escalation of violence in the region. They agreed to continue working together to that end."

Read More: Israel-Hamas latest: Rishi Sunak visits Israel as he pledges to stand against the evil of terror

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It comes after Mr Sunak posted on X after he touched down: "I am in Israel, a nation in grief. I grieve with you and stand with you against the evil that is terrorism. Today, and always."

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast as the Prime Minister arrived in the country, Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said the UK government recognises the right of Israel to "defend themselves against such vicious barbarism".

"Let's make it clear, this is a war against Hamas, and one that the Israeli government has the right to fight. And, indeed, for all our sakes we hope they win," he told Nick.

'For all our sakes we hope Israel wins the war against Hamas': Security Minister tells LBC

Egypt agreed on Wednesday night to let 20 lorry-loads of aid into southern Gaza via the Rafah crossing on its border, following a visit to Israel by US president Joe Biden.

Israel has said it would not stop the aid getting to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in need, provided the materials do not find their way into the hands of Hamas.

Read more: Mo Salah calls for end to 'slaughter of innocent souls' in Gaza, as Egypt to let 20 lorryloads of aid across border

Read more: Livestream footage claims to prove rocket fired from Gaza killed hundreds at hospital

Rishi Sunak has arrived in Israel
Rishi Sunak has arrived in Israel. Picture: Alamy
Palestinian paramedics treat wounded Palestinians,
Palestinian paramedics treat wounded Palestinians,. Picture: Alamy

Mr Sunak also condemned the loss of life from a blast at a hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday, as he said it should provide a "watershed moment" in the conflict.

Ahead of his trip, the Prime Minister said: "Every civilian death is a tragedy. And too many lives have been lost following Hamas's horrific act of terror.

"The attack on al Ahli Hospital should be a watershed moment for leaders in the region and across the world to come together to avoid further dangerous escalation of conflict. I will ensure the UK is at the forefront of this effort."

Rishi Sunak will fly to Israel on Thursday
Rishi Sunak will fly to Israel on Thursday. Picture: Getty

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will visit regional powers Egypt, Turkey and Qatar in the coming days to underscore the UK's message.

Mr Cleverly said: "It is in no one's interests - neither Israeli, Palestinian nor the wider Middle East - for others to be drawn into this conflict.

"I am meeting counterparts from influential states in the region to push for calm and stability, facilitate humanitarian access into Gaza and work together to secure the release of hostages."

Hamas-run health authorities in Gaza claimed at least 500 people, including women and children, were killed when a rocket hit the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital on Tuesday evening. The group blamed an Israeli air strike, which Israel vehemently denied.

Israel said it was a misfired rocket launched by terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who themselves denied responsibility. The Israel Defence Force (IDF) released images and audio that it claimed showed it was not responsible.

Former US National Security Advisor: Biden's Israel visit was merely a 'photo opportunity'

The death toll of the strike has not been independently confirmed.

A clip streamed live on Israeli TV by Keshet 12 News on Wednesday appears to show a series of missiles being launched into the night sky, seconds before the explosion at the hospital.

The conflict started when Hamas massacred more than 1,000 Israelis on October 7 in the biggest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust and kidnapped about 200 people.

That led to a furious retaliation from Israel, including a bombardment that has killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, and displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

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