Vital aid finally rolled into the besieged Gaza Strip as Rishi Sunak warned against a “contagion of conflict” in the Middle East.
A humanitarian convoy of 20 Egyptian Red Crescent lorries, carrying life-saving supplies, crossed the border from Rafah, Egypt, although the UN warned it was “not enough” to meet the dire needs of 2.3 million people.
The convoy had been parked on the border for a week, alongside 200 lorries carrying roughly 3,000 tons of aid, while negotiations unfolded around Israeli demands of proof the aid would not end up in the hands of Hamas terrorists.
According to UN officials, at least 100 lorries a day are needed in Gaza to cover urgent needs.
“The people of Gaza need a commitment for much, much more – a continuous delivery of aid,” the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, told a summit in Cairo.
He added that the time has come for “action to end this godawful nightmare” and called for an immediate ceasefire.
As aid rolled in, hundreds of foreign passport holders trapped in Gaza queued at the border hoping to escape the Palestinian enclave.
The border post has remained closed to Palestinians wanting to escape the siege.
“The humanitarian situation in Gaza has reached catastrophic levels,” said the UN’s Martin Griffiths.
“I am confident that this delivery will be the start of a sustainable effort to provide essential supplies – including food, water, medicine and fuel.”
But Israel stood by its decision to exclude fuel, vital for Gaza’s power generators, in a bid to hamper Hamas’s operations.
“The humanitarian situation in Gaza is under control,” said IDF spokesman Avichay Adraee. “We appeal to residents in the north to go south. Humanitarian aid will go in there and we will continue to intensify the strikes on the north.”
He confirmed that “food, medicine and water” were transported through the Rafah crossing.
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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who last week visited the Middle East, said diplomacy is more important than ever.
He said: “I visited Israel and other countries in the Middle East to demonstrate that the UK stands in solidarity with them against terrorism. That we, too, know that there can be no justification for the kind of atrocities visited on innocent people by Hamas two weeks ago.”
The funerals of those killed in the massacres of October 7 continued last week. One victim, Mira Stahl, was buried in Tel Aviv on Friday amid emotional scenes.
Mr Sunak added: “In times of tension and division, it’s more important than ever to accelerate diplomatic efforts.
“The reopening of the Rafah crossing into Gaza is testament to the power of diplomacy, with the US, Israel and Egypt brokering an agreement to ensure vital aid reaches the Palestinian people.”
Speaking of the powder-keg situation in the Middle East, Mr Sunak said: “The overwhelming view I got from everyone I spoke to was that we need to do everything possible to stop a contagion of conflict in the region.
“We need to keep our aspirations for a more peaceful and stable future firmly in our sights as we work together to defeat the evil of terrorism.”
At the Cairo peace conference, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly reiterated support for Israel.
He said.“The UK has been consistently clear that Israel has the right to self-defence and the right to secure the release of those kidnapped on October 7.
“And we are also clear that we must work, and they must work, to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza, and that their actions are in accordance with international law.”
He added: “We are all seeing on social media and in our communities how divisive and polarising the current situation has become.
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“We must ensure Hamas does not win. We must ensure peaceful coexistence wins.”
Mr Cleverly also called on “professionalism and restraint” from the Israeli military. More than 170,000 troops, 300,000 reservists and 300 main battle tanks are poised to cross the border in what will be the largest military assault since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The operation has been repeatedly delayed by visits by US President Joe Biden, Mr Sunak and other dignitaries.
Meanwhile, it is claimed Hamas has fired around 6,000 rockets into Israel since October 7. Israeli defence chiefs said as many as one in every five failed to cross the border, landing short on Palestinian positions instead.
Yesterday, France’s military intelligence directorate confirmed findings by US and Israeli counterparts that a misfired Palestinian missile caused the destruction of Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City, and not Israeli fighter jets.
Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, confirmed that Tel Aviv is now prepared to fight on two fronts, with troops near the Lebanese border following rocket strikes by Hezbollah.
Israelis in the area have been urged to evacuate.
She said: “We are working hard with our allies to ensure there is no second front. But Hezbollah does not stop firing its rockets.
“We have troops there and we are prepared.”
Large numbers were reportedly massing on the Lebanon border yesterday, with artillery shells and armoured vehicles prepared.
Israel has also urged its citizens in Egypt and Jordan to leave as soon as possible.
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