The UK Government is calling for a “pause” in conflict in the Middle East for humanitarian reasons, but has rejected growing calls for a ceasefire.
Rishi Sunak has said temporary breaks in the violence could allow British nationals and hostages to be freed and aid to be provided to the Gaza Strip.
But ministers reiterated their support for Israel, with Defence Secretary Grant Shapps saying an expected ground invasion would fall under the country’s right to defend itself as long as the action targeted Hamas.
The Prime Minister said on Wednesday “specific pauses” are necessary for humanitarian purposes as Israel pummels the small strip of land, which is home to more than two million Palestinians.
Mr Sunak said “the first and most important principle is that Israel has the right to defend itself under international law” after Hamas’s atrocity on October 7, while Downing Street said a ceasefire would “only serve to benefit Hamas”.
More than 80 MPs have urged the Government to call for a cessation of violence, as five UK nationals remain missing – some of whom are believed to be hostages in Gaza.
Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday night, Mr Shapps said: “We understand that Israel was attacked in a very brutal way by Hamas terrorists… to then ask Israel not to respond, in other words what you describe as a ceasefire, I think is untenable.
“They have a perfect right to go after those terrorists. But it’s the international humanitarian situation that a pause could really assist with.”
Asked whether a ground invasion would fall under Israel’s right to defend itself, he said: “As long as the people that they are going after are the Hamas terrorists, yes.”
But he told the show the group “hide themselves amongst” the Palestinian population, making it a “very difficult situation”.
Meanwhile, Muslim Labour MPs urged Sir Keir Starmer to call for a ceasefire as he sought to soothe their anger over his position on the conflict.
The Labour leader joined Mr Sunak and the US in backing “humanitarian pauses”.
But he has not expressed support for a longer-lasting cessation, which has heightened consternation among some in the party after he initially backed cutting off water and food in Gaza.
The comments, from which he has since rowed back, prompted resignations among Labour councillors and angered the party’s MPs, even those on the frontbenches as shadow ministers.
Sir Keir released a statement saying that the amount of aid and essentials going into Gaza is “completely insufficient to meet the humanitarian emergency on the ground” and calling for supplies to be “urgently ramped up”.
He said that “we support humanitarian pauses” and said there “can only be a political solution to this crisis” as he urged for a restart of the talks to broker a two-state solution.