At least six Britons were killed in Hamas’s “pogrom” in Israel and a further ten are missing, Rishi Sunak told MPs as he increased aid to the Palestinian people by a third.
The Prime Minister said on Monday the UK must “support absolutely Israel’s right to defend itself” as it targets Hamas, as he called for the immediate release of the around 200 hostages taken by the militant group.
But he also recognised in a Commons statement that the Palestinian people are “victims of Hamas too” as he announced an extra £10m of aid funding.
It came as the BBC reported two British sisters, named only as Noiya, 16, and Yahel, 13, were among those missing while their mother Lianne, who was born in the UK, was killed in the October 7 attack.
With the families of some of the missing watching his statement in Parliament, Sunak recounted that more than 1,400 people were murdered, more than 3,500 wounded and almost 200 taken hostage in Hamas’s attack.
“The elderly, men, women, children, babes in arms, murdered, mutilated, burned alive,” he continued.
“We should call it by its name: it was a pogrom.”
Sunak said the “terrible nature of these attacks means it is proving difficult to identify many of the deceased” but at least six Britons were killed.
Of the further ten missing, he said some are feared to be among the dead as the UK works with Israel to establish the facts and support the families through their “unimaginable pain”.
He said eight flights so far have brought back 500 British nationals from Israel, with more leaving in the coming hours.
Addressing the British Jewish community, Sunak said: “We stand with you now and always. This atrocity was an existential strike at the very idea of Israel as a safe homeland for the Jewish people.”
The Prime Minister said he is “sickened” that antisemitic attacks have increased since the wave of bloodshed in Israel, as he vowed to do “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.
“Hamas is using innocent Palestinian people as human shields.
“We mourn the loss of every innocent life, civilians of every faith, every nationality who have been killed.
“And so let’s say it plainly: we stand with British Muslim communities too.”
Sunak announced that a further £10m in humanitarian aid would be provided to civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, up from the £27m existing funding this year.
“An acute humanitarian crisis is unfolding to which we must respond, we must support, because they are victims of Hamas too,” he said.
He said the UK would continue to press Israel to “take every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians”, with more than 2,750 Palestinians reported to have been killed and 9,700 wounded since the fighting erupted.
More than 1,400 Israelis have died, the vast majority civilians killed in the October 7 assault, while the country’s military said that at least 199 hostages had been taken to Gaza.
Sir Keir Starmer said it is “crucial that this House speaks with one voice in condemnation of terror, in support for Israel in its time of agony and for the dignity of all human life”.
The Labour leader added that civilians “must not be targeted” as he called for humanitarian corridors to be opened to allow the supply of food, water and electricity to the Gaza Strip.
Earlier in the day, Sunak expressed his condolences for the deaths of civilians in a call with President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas and discussed providing humanitarian aid to Gaza and measures to protect civilians.
He also held a call with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the need to send aid to Gaza.
British officials have been pressing for Egypt to open the Rafah crossing with Gaza to allow Britons, dual nationals, as well as their spouses and children, to flee and to allow humanitarian aid into its more than two million people.
However, expectations in Government for opening the crossing were understood to be very low on Monday.
Sunak raised the border crossing in a call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi last week, and it is understood that opening the border for foreign nationals and for Palestinian refugees could be treated separately.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We do think it is important, both in the interests of British nationals and others, but also important for the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza.”
Defence minister James Heappey warned that combat in Gaza – as Israel is expected to launch an offensive by sea, air and land – is likely to be “horrendous”.
“I think you have to be clear that international law allows Israel to prosecute a mission that is legal, proportionate and necessary, and that, I’m afraid, does not necessarily mean that Israel has to be able to guarantee that there will be no civilian loss of life,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
“It is almost inevitable, given the complexity of the mission, that there will be (an) innocent civilian population that is very badly affected. I just don’t think there’s any point pretending otherwise.”
The United Nations and global aid agencies have expressed alarm about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, after Israel ordered civilians to evacuate the north ahead of an imminent attack.
Western diplomats are also concerned that the war between Hamas and Israel could spark a wider conflict in the Middle East.
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