The press release issued by the Ministry of Defence on 7 December 2023.
As part of ongoing diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, the Defence Secretary travels to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) and Israel this week.
Defence Secretary Grant Shapps will push for humanitarian aid to be delivered to Palestinians faster – including by sea directly into Gaza – when he visits the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel this week.
The trip will see him discuss options with leaders to provide civilians in Gaza with more aid and how the UK can support the Palestinian Authority, as well as efforts to prevent further escalation in the Middle East.
He will also discuss progress in recovering hostages – including a number of Britons – who were taken by Hamas terrorists during the 7 October attacks.
With Palestinian civilians experiencing a growing humanitarian crisis, the Defence Secretary will address options for providing Gaza with more medical and humanitarian aid, including potential routes via land, sea, and air. To date, four RAF flights carrying over 74 tonnes of aid have landed in Egypt with aid bound for Palestinians.
Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said:
My visit this week is an important opportunity to discuss efforts to accelerate the delivery of lifesaving humanitarian assistance into Gaza and efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages.
We are working to find the best way to get aid and support to those in desperate need in the quickest and most direct route. That includes options by land, sea and air.
We have deployed an extra 1,000 military personnel in the Middle East and our forces are there to support the humanitarian aid effort and help in stabilising the area.
The events of 7 October horrified the world and I personally want to offer my support and condolences to Israel and its people.
We fully support Israel’s right to defend itself, but it is important their fight against Hamas terrorists remains within international law.
In the OPTs, the Defence Secretary is expected to meet the Interior Minister of the Palestinian Authority, General Ziad Hab Al-Reeh, to address the urgent need for measures to improve security for Palestinians in the West Bank.
In Tel Aviv, the Defence Secretary will meet Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant to address the current security situation and Israel’s next steps.The UK has made clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against terror, restore its security and bring the hostages home, but it must abide by international humanitarian law and take all possible measures to protect civilians.
Since Hamas’ terrorist attacks against Israel on 7 October 2023, the UK has increased its military presence in the region in order to support contingency planning, monitor the evolving situation, and to be ready to react and respond to regional threats.
This included the deployment of a Royal Navy task group to the eastern Mediterranean, including RFA Lyme Bay and RFA Argus, three Merlin helicopters and a company of Royal Marines. In support of the ongoing hostage rescue activity, the UK Ministry of Defence is also conducting unarmed surveillance flights over the eastern Mediterranean, including operating in airspace over Israel and Gaza. In total, the UK has deployed an additional 1,000 personnel to the Middle East, bringing the total number of Armed Forces personnel deployed to the region to around 2,500 – including those deployed for counter-Daesh operations, training, and maritime security.
Last week, the Defence Secretary also announced that HMS Diamond is deploying east of Suez to join HMS Lancaster on Operation Kipion, the UK’s longstanding maritime presence in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean, following increasing concerns about the security of important maritime trade routes.
On Wednesday, the Defence Secretary also travelled to the Republic of Cyprus and the Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) of Akrotiri and Dhekelia. During this visit, he met with the Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs Constantinos Kombos and discussed the importance of humanitarian support for Gaza, the war in Ukraine, and shared security interests.