Rishi Sunak pledges support for Israel, urges aid for Gaza

JERUSALEM — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrived in Israel on Thursday facing the same dilemma as President Biden the day before: how to pledge unwavering support for Israel while also considering the plight of civilians in Gaza as Israel’s army aims to eliminate Hamas.

Sunak said at a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem that he was “proud to stand here with you in Israel’s darkest hour,” and he condemned what he called “unspeakable, horrific acts of terrorism” by Hamas. But echoing Biden, the British leader also urged aid for Gaza, emphasized that “the Palestinian people are victims of Hamas, too,” and added that “we mourn the loss of every innocent life.”

Sunak welcomed the deal Biden had announced, in which Israel agreed to allow limited humanitarian aid into Gaza through Egypt, and he expressed his hope that progress could be made on getting food, water and medicine into Gaza.

But the agreement to allow up to 20 trucks with aid through Egypt’s Rafah border crossing — the only link into Gaza that Israel does not control — as a kind of test balloon is contingent on no aid reaching Hamas in a territory it controls with an iron fist. Many other key questions also remained unanswered, including whether the aid will include much-needed fuel for hospital generators.

Aid deliveries are not expected to begin before Friday and they can only briefly stave off the deepening humanitarian crisis, aid groups say. It is also unclear whether aid workers will receive any safety guarantees.

Diplomatic efforts this week also yielded few results on allowing aid to be delivered directly from Israel to Gaza. Netanyahu continues to resist the delivery of food and medicines, saying that Hamas needs to first return Israeli hostages.

With Palestinian officials saying that more than 3,000 people have been killed and 12,000 wounded in Gaza since the fighting began, the territory’s health system has been repeatedly described as on the verge of collapse. Surgeries are being conducted in the dark or canceled, said the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Israel says it is targeting Hamas leaders and fighters in Gaza, but satellite imagery shows that places of worship, hospitals, schools and homes have also been damaged or destroyed.

Jordanian King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi in a meeting Thursday in Cairo placed blame squarely on Israel. “If the war does not stop and expands, it threatens to plunge the entire region into a catastrophe,” both warned, according to a readout.

Damage maps of Gaza’s hard-hit areas since the start of the war

The repercussions of a strike at the al-Ahli Hospital earlier this week, which deepened global anguish over civilian deaths, continued to reverberate Thursday. Palestinian authorities had blamed the strike on Israel and said it killed 471 people. The Israel Defense Forces disputed that death toll and said the strike originated inside Gaza. U.S. officials have also doubted Israeli responsibility, citing intelligence, aerial imagery and open-source material.

In the West Bank and the wider region, the deadly strike prompted clashes and raised concerns over a broadening of the conflict. The State Department urged U.S. citizens in Lebanon to “make plans to depart as soon as possible” while commercial flights are still available. “We recommend that U.S. citizens who choose not to depart prepare contingency plans for emergency situations,” the embassy said, referring to the country’s “unpredictable security situation.”

There were clashes on Wednesday between protesters and Israeli and Palestinian security forces in cities across the West Bank, including Jenin, Nablus and Hebron. Israeli forces responded with live fire, tear gas and stun grenades. At least two Palestinians were killed in a town outside Ramallah.

At least 545 Palestinians across 74 households have been displaced from Bedouin communities in the West Bank since Oct. 7, OCHA said, citing “intensified settler violence and access restrictions.” More than half of the displaced were children.

Across Israel, security precautions remained high on Thursday. Israel’s military said Hamas militants are still in the country, more than 10 days after their Oct. 7 incursion. “Yesterday we found a terrorist, exhausted, on his way to Gaza,” IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said Thursday, adding that the man was being interrogated.

Noack reported from Islamabad, Pakistan. Kelly Kasulis Cho in Seoul, Miriam Berger in Jerusalem, Louisa Loveluck, Leo Sands, Ellen Francis and Jennifer Hassan in London contributed.

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