At least six Britons killed in Israel and 10 missing, says Rishi Sunak

PM warns ‘terrible nature’ of attacks means it is proving difficult to identify some of the deceased

Adam Forrest,Bel Trew
Monday 16 October 2023 19:30 BST
Six British citizens killed in Israel-Hamas conflict and 10 missing, says Sunak

At least six British citizens have been killed in Israel while another 10 are missing, Rishi Sunak told the Commons on Monday as he described the attacks by Hamas as a “pogrom”.

The prime minister said the “barbaric” attacks on the people of Israel had “shocked the world”, adding: “We should call it by its name: it was a pogrom.”

Mr Sunak said Britain stands with Israel when he repeated his support for the country’s right to defend itself as it prepares for to “go after Hamas [and] take back hostages” with a ground invasion of Gaza.

The PM also called for “every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians” – arguing that Israel’s military push to destroy Hamas “must be done in line with international humanitarian law”.

His intervention came as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu signalled a long and bloody battle lay ahead as he warned “victory might take time” but that his forces were ready and “storming forward”.

Speaking to Israel’s parliament on Monday, he urged Western allies to rally behind Israel: “I tell our friends... Our war is your war. If we do not stand together in a united front, it will reach you as well.

“Victory will take time. There will be difficult moments. There will be pitfalls. Sacrifice will be necessary.”

Mr Netanyahu compared Hamas to the Nazis and accused its allies Iran and the militant group Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, of wanting to return the Middle East to “the abyss of the barbaric fanaticism of the Middle Ages”.

Addressing the House of Commons, Mr Sunak announced an extra £10m in UK aid for the Palestinian people, and called on Israel and Egypt to open up the Rafah border crossing to allow urgently needed humanitarian supplies.

“We must support the Palestinian people because they are victims of Hamas too,” saying the group does not “represent” the people of Gaza.

“We must ensure humanitarian aid reaches civilians in Gaza – this requires Egypt and Israel to let in the aid that is so badly needed.”

Confirming the British dead, he said the “terrible nature” of these attacks meant it was proving difficult to identify some of the deceased.

“With a heavy heart I can inform the House that at least six British citizens were killed. A further 10 are missing, some of whom are feared to be among the dead.”

He added that 500 Britons had been brought back to the UK on eight flights.

Rishi Sunak addresses students during an assembly at a Jewish school in north London on Monday (Getty)

The Tory leader said he had raised the need to minimise the impact on civilians in Gaza with Mr Netanyahu “as best we can”, adding: “I’ve raised the humanitarian situation.” He said Mr Netanyahu did not want wider escalation in the region.

The PM also said Hamas was now “telling people to stay behind” in the north of Gaza. “It’s Hamas that is embedding itself inside civilian populations and that is just example of the barbarity with which they operate.”

The Israeli military has announced it is preparing for a coordinated offensive in Gaza and has ordered citizens to move south. Israel has called up some 360,000 military reservists ahead of the anticipated offensive, while tanks and heavy weaponry have also been brought to the border as airstrikes continue to pound the besieged enclave.

The Israeli government denied agreeing a ceasefire in southern Gaza to allow aid in and some foreign nationals to leave.

Sunak held talks with Mahmoud Abbas on Monday, leader of the Palestinian National Authority (Getty Images)

Mr Sunak held talks with Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Palestinian National Authority, and “reiterated the UK’s position that Hamas does not speak for ordinary Palestinians” and “affirmed that the UK continues to support a two-state solution”, said No 10.

His spokesperson added: “However hard it is, we need to ask the tough questions about how we can revive the long-term prospect for a two-state solution, for normalisation and regional stability – not least because that is precisely what Hamas has been trying to kill.”

Issuing support for the PM’s stance, Sir Keir Starmer told the Commons that Israel was “the victim of terrorism on an unimaginable scale” and said “Labour stands with Israel”. The Labour leader said civilians “must not be targeted” in Gaza and “innocent lives must be protected”.

Imran Hussain, the Labour MP for Bradford East, said Israel’s “indiscriminate airstrikes” were killing civilians in Gaza and “is in clear violation of international law”.

Senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, warned against a full-scale invasion of Gaza. “If we are a true friend of Israel, we should counsel against a full-scale ground invasion at this time, as it will see this conflict spill into the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

Addressing the British Jewish community, Mr Sunak said in the Commons that Hamas’ atrocities were “an existential strike at the very idea of Israel as a safe homeland for the Jewish people. I understand why it has shaken you to your core ... We are doing everything we can to protect you”.

But he said “we stand with British Muslim communities too” as he noted the “moment of great anguish” for those appalled by Hamas’s actions while being fearful of the response. “We must listen to these concerns with the same attentiveness,” he said.

Over the last few days tensions have soared along Israel’s northern borders with exchanges of fire leaving seven people dead. On Monday Hezbollah fighters continued firing anti-tank missiles on Israeli army positions, with Israeli troops shelling back.

Also on Monday, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency took responsibility for failing to prevent Hamas from carrying out its deadly rampage through Israeli towns.

“Despite a series of actions we carried out, unfortunately, on Saturday we were unable to generate sufficient warning that would allow the attack to be thwarted,” said Shin Bet director Ronen Bar.

The Israeli military said that it had notified the families of 199 people that their loved ones were being held in Gaza, by both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

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