Rishi Sunak steps up Britain’s call for a ‘sustainable ceasefire’ in the Middle East as PM says ‘too many civilian lives have been lost’ in Gaza conflict – after ex-defence secretary Ben Wallace warns Israel’s ‘killing rage’ will make the crisis worse

Rishi Sunak today stepped up the Government’s demand for a ‘sustainable ceasefire’ in the Middle East.

The Prime Minister warned ‘too many civilian lives have been lost’ during the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

He also continued to put pressure on Israel to allow greater access for aid deliveries into Gaza.

Yet Downing Street this morning shied away from repeating ex-defence secretary Ben Wallace‘s claim that Israel’s ‘killing rage’ is making the crisis worse.

Israel was today accused by Hamas of killing at least 110 more Palestinians in airstrikes in Jabalia, northern Gaza.

Despite growing international unease over its assault, Israel has continued a bombardment of Gaza in the wake of the 7 October terror attacks by Hamas.

The Prime Minister, speaking on a visit to RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, warned ‘too many civilian lives have been lost’ during the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas

Smoke rises from Gaza near the border with southern Israel as the bombardment of the Palestinian territory continues

Smoke rises from Gaza near the border with southern Israel as the bombardment of the Palestinian territory continues 

Israeli soldiers sit on their vehicles close to the Gaza border in southern Israel

Israeli soldiers sit on their vehicles close to the Gaza border in southern Israel

Speaking to reporters in Scotland this morning about the continuing conflict, Mr Sunak said: ‘Israel obviously has a right to defend itself against what was an appalling terrorist attack perpetrated by Hamas.

‘But it must do that in accordance with humanitarian law.

‘It’s clear that too many civilian lives have been lost and nobody wants to see this conflict go on a day longer than it has to.

‘And that’s why we’ve been consistent – and I made this point in Parliament last week – in calling for a sustainable ceasefire, whereby hostages are released, rockets stop being fired into Israel by Hamas and we continue to get more aid in.’

The PM added he had pushed his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on the need for greater access for humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

‘One of the things I spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu about the other week was opening up another crossing so that we can get more aid into Gaza,’ Mr Sunak said.

‘I’m pleased that the Israelis have responded to that. And the UK is playing a leading role in making sure that aid reaches those who desperately need it.’

Downing Street said a ‘sustainable ceasefire’ is one ‘that can last, that means that Hamas no longer has a place in Israel, that rockets have stopped firing, that the hostages are returned’.

The PM’s official spokesman said: ‘The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) should do more to ensure its campaign is targeted on Hamas leaders and operatives.

‘But of course, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that Hamas deliberately puts Palestinian civilians at risk by embedding themselves in the civilian population and, of course, seizing dozens of hostages which they could release at any point.’

But No10 declined to repeat Mr Wallace’s claim that Israel was engaged in a ‘killing rage’ since 7 October.

‘We are concerned, as we have set out before, that too many civilians are being killed in Gaza and that vital infrastructure is being destroyed,’ Mr Sunak’s spokesman added.

Ex-defence secretary Ben Wallace claimed that Israel's 'killing rage' is making the crisis worse

Ex-defence secretary Ben Wallace claimed that Israel’s ‘killing rage’ is making the crisis worse

Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Wallace warned: ‘Netanyahu’s mistake was to miss the attack in the first place.

‘But if he thinks a killing rage will rectify matters, then he is very wrong. His methods will not solve this problem. In fact, I believe his tactics will fuel the conflict for another 50 years.’

The former defence secretary said he was not ‘calling for a ceasefire with Hamas’, but instead that Israel ‘needs to stop this crude and indiscriminate method of attack’.

Mr Netanyahu’s administration is facing mounting international concern over the scale of civilian casualties.

The US, Israel’s main ally, has also expressed growing unease about the conduct of the war.

French foreign minister Catherine Colonna this weekend called for an ‘immediate truce’ aimed at releasing more hostages, getting larger amounts of aid into Gaza and moving towards ‘the beginning of a political solution’.

And, in a joint newspaper article with his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock on Sunday, Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron expressed Britain’s support for a ‘sustainable ceasefire’.

They wrote in the Sunday Times‘Our goal cannot simply be an end to fighting today. It must be peace lasting for days, years, generations. We therefore support a ceasefire, but only if it is sustainable.’

But both Lord Cameron and his German counterpart stopped short of calling for an immediate ceasefire, something that has been a demand by pro-Palestinian campaigners as the death count in Gaza continues to grow.

‘We know many in the region and beyond have been calling for an immediate ceasefire,’ the article said. ‘We recognise what motivates these heartfelt calls.

‘It is an understandable reaction to such intense suffering, and we share the view that this conflict cannot drag on and on. That is why we supported the recent humanitarian pauses.’

During a visit to a hospital in Leeds today, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘A sustainable ceasefire is clearly, clearly what is needed.

‘We need to get to a sustainable ceasefire as quickly as possible. And, I think the route to that is to get back to where we were just two weeks ago, where hostilities ceased, there’s an opening that allows the remaining hostages to be freed, which they must be straight away – allows humanitarian aid to get in – desperately needed – but, also, is a foot-in-the-door to a process, it will have to be a political process, to a two-stage solution which, in the end, is the only way that this is going to be resolved.

‘A sustainable ceasefire is what everyone should be arguing for, certainly what we’re arguing for, and, if we can get as much support for that as possible, I think that’s the most realistic way forward.’

Karla McLaren, Amnesty International UK’s head of government and political relations, said: ‘While it’s a change of language, this modified Government position about a “sustainable ceasefire” will mean very little to the thousands of civilians in Gaza at risk of starvation, disease or death in one of Israel’s relentless airstrikes.

‘In practice, a “sustainable ceasefire” call is hardly any better than one advocating a mere humanitarian pause if an actual ceasefire remains postponed to some indefinite future date.

‘As the terrible events at the Jabalia refugee camp show, Palestinian civilians are dying in their droves and the UK’s linguistic recalibration does nothing to meaningfully address that.’

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