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Middle East

Israel-Gaza conflict: Britain warns Netanyahu the West is 'losing sympathy' for Israel

Philip Hammond reportedly said he would issue the warning to Benjamin Netanyahu when they met in Jerusalem today

Philip Hammond, the new Foreign Secretary, will tell Benjamin Netanyahu today that the West is becoming less sympathetic to Israel’s cause, it has been reported.

Mr Hammond has called for an urgent ceasefire to end the conflict in Gaza, where the death toll on both sides has now risen to 750.

Last night he met with the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and promised to push for a “stable solution” in the region that would allow Israelis and Palestinians to “live in peace together”.

But at the same time he has rejected comments from the UN’s top human rights official that Israel may have committed war crimes over the course of the air, sea and ground offensive that began on 8 July.

Speaking today in a joint press conference in Jerusalem alongside the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Hammond warned that Britain was “gravely concerned” by the number of civilian casualties suffered in Gaza over the course of the past two and a half weeks, Sky News reported.

It followed comments he made to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, when he urged Israel to act “in a way that is proportionate” and do all it can to “prevent unnecessary loss of civilian life”.

He has now joined the diplomatic effort on the ground in the Middle East, telling reporters he came “to bring this conflict to an end”, and put his support behind an Egyptian ceasefire proposal that would see an immediate end to fighting followed by discussions on the terms of a longer-term peace deal.

Standing alongside Mr Netanyahu, the Foreign Secretary nonetheless reiterated the Government’s position that Hamas is to blame for the latest outbreak of fighting.

He said: “Britain has been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself and its citizens but we are gravely concerned by the ongoing heavy level of civilian casualties. We want to see a ceasefire quickly agreed.

Video: 'There is huge public concern about the level of civilian casualties'

“We welcomed the earlier ceasefire proposal by Egypt,” he added. “We are disappointed that Hamas has once again apparently rejected ceasefire proposals.”

Mr Netanyahu said that he welcomed Britain's support and had an ominous message for those hoping for an immediate ceasefire.

He told Mr Hammond: “I thank you for keeping your moral focus and your moral clarity. We shall need it in the days ahead.

“We started this operation to return peace and quiet to Israel, and we shall return it,” Mr Netanyahu said.

The 16-day conflict has seen 718 Palestinians killed, the majority of them civilians, health officials in Gaza say. Israel has lot 32 soldiers, all since it widened its campaign to include ground incursions on 17 July.

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, flew into Israel on Wednesday using an Air Force jet, despite a Federal Aviation Administration ban imposed on Tel Aviv’s international airport at the time.

Speaking in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Mr Kerry said: “We certainly have made steps forward. There's still work to be done.”