Rishi Sunak heads to Egypt amid fears Israel-Hamas conflict will spread

PM continues Middle East tour in bid to avoid ‘escalation’ after speaking to Saudi and Qatari leaders

Kate Devlin,Adam Forrest
Friday 20 October 2023 09:45 BST
Rishi Sunak says Israel has 'a right and a duty' to respond to Hamas violence

Rishi Sunak will fly to Egypt today amid growing fears the Israel-Hamas conflict will spread across the wider Middle East.

Countries including the US and the UK have warned people to leave nearby Lebanon as an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza appears to near.

The PM is expected to meet the Egyptian leader and stress the need to avoid further loss of civilian life – having already met with Saudi and Qatari leaders in a bid to avoid regional escalation.

On Thursday, Mr Sunak told Israeli leaders that they had both a “right and duty” to “go after” Hamas as he backed military action at the start of a two-day visit to the region.

The PM called the terrorist group “pure evil” and, at a joint press conference with Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, added: “We want you to win”.

But he also pushed Israel for progress in allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza, amid warnings of a humanitarian disaster. Hundreds of lorries with vital supplies are still waiting to enter from Egypt after US president Biden secured agreement.

On his trip to the Middle East, the PM also held talks with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who agreed they should work together to prevent the conflict spiralling.

Mr Sunak “encouraged the crown prince to use Saudi's leadership in the region to support stability, both now and in the long-term”, No 10 said.

"In all (his) conversations the prime minister has stressed the imperative of avoiding regional escalation and preventing the further unnecessary loss of civilian life," a No 10 spokesman added.

The risks were illustrated when the United States said one of its warships had intercepted cruise missiles and drones launched from Yemen “potentially towards targets in Israel”.

Houthi rebels in Yemen, backed by Iran, have expressed support for the Palestinians and threatened Israel. Attacks against Israel have also been launched from Lebanon, where the Hezbollah group is also backed by Iran.

Sunak has met with Qatar leader Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani this morning in Saudi Arabia, as they stressed the “urgent need” for more humanitarian aid to get into Gaza.

They agreed the importance of “avoiding any escalation in the violence across the region”, according to No 10. Sunak and Al-Thani welcomed progress on opening up humanitarian access to Gaza and said there was an “urgent need to get food, water and medicine to civilians who are suffering”.

Sunak also thanked Qatari leader efforts to secure the release of hostages taken by Hamas two weeks ago, including British nationals. The leaders agreed to stay in close contact to continue these efforts.

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