RAF to conduct 'surveillance' to search for Hamas dungeons
RAF will conduct ‘unarmed surveillance flights’ over the Middle East to search for dungeons where Hamas are keeping kidnapped civilians hostage
- READ MORE: Israel launches 400 strikes in 48 hours since Hamas broke truce
The RAF is set to conduct ‘unarmed surveillance flights’ over the Middle East in a bid to find locations where Hamas are keeping kidnapped civilian hostages.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed on Saturday that ministers had been working with allies in the region to ‘secure the release of hostages’, including British nationals.
Fighting resumed between Israel and Hamas on Friday after a week-long truce, despite more than 130 hostages remaining in captivity in the Gaza Strip.
In the weeks after Hamas’s bloody October 7 raids on Israel, Downing Street said at least 12 British nationals had been killed in the attack and a further five are still missing.
Some of those are believed to have been kidnapped but the UK Government has not confirmed how many might be in Hamas’s clutches.
In a statement published on the Government website, the MoD said: ‘The safety of British nationals is our utmost priority.
‘In support of the ongoing hostage rescue activity, the UK Ministry of Defence will conduct surveillance flights over the eastern Mediterranean, including operating in air space over Israel and Gaza.
The RAF is set to conduct ‘unarmed surveillance flights’ over the Middle East in a bid to find locations where Hamas are keeping kidnapped civilian hostages
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed on Saturday that ministers had been working with allies in the region to ‘secure the release of hostages’, including British nationals
‘Surveillance aircraft will be unarmed, do not have a combat role, and will be tasked solely to locate hostages.
‘Only information relating to hostage rescue will be passed to the relevant authorities responsible for hostage rescue.’
MoD officials said a range of unarmed aircraft would be used for the reconnaissance flights, including Shadow R1s which are used for intelligence gathering by the Royal Air Force (RAF).
Information on the potential whereabouts of captives will be shared with Israel.
The lull in the fighting during the truce allowed for 105 hostages held by Hamas and other militants to be freed.
Some had been kept for several weeks in underground tunnels dug by the Gaza rulers.
In exchange, Israel released 240 Palestinians from its prisons. Most of those released by both sides were women and children.
Israel said on Friday that 136 hostages remain in Gaza. They include 119 men and 17 women and children, according to military spokesperson Daniel Hagari. Roughly 10 of the hostages are 75 and older, the Prime Minister’s Office said Friday.
The vast majority are Israeli while 11 are foreign nationals, including eight from Thailand, one from Nepal and Tanzania each, and one French-Mexican.
Earlier, government spokesperson Eylon Levy listed the youngest hostage, 10-month-old Kfir Bibas, his 4-year-old brother Ariel and their mother Shiri as still being among the hostages. The military has said it’s investigating a Hamas claim that the boys and their mother were killed in an Israeli airstrike.
Families of hostages who have not been released are still waiting in desperation, calling on the government to bring their loved ones home.
Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip, after a temporary truce expired between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in this handout picture released on December 2, 2023
Sharone Lifschitz, whose mother was freed in October, heard this week that a returned hostage had seen her father, 83-year-old Oded Lifshitz, in captivity
Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, (pictured, centre) was taken against her will from her home in Kibbutz Nir Oz during Hamas’ incursion into Israel on October 7
Sharone Lifschitz, whose mother was freed in October, heard this week that a returned hostage had seen her father, 83-year-old Oded Lifshitz, in captivity. Her father, who spells the family name differently, was last seen shot while militants carted him off to Gaza.
She says the news was a ‘ray of light’ but that she wonders if it’s still true.
‘My father is ill, is frail. He needs medicine,” she said. “I don’t know how long he can survive in such harsh conditions.’
But fighting commenced again from Friday morning, with the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry reporting that at least 200 Palestinians have been killed since the violence resumed, taking the death toll within the territory to beyond 15,200.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) pounded targets in the crowded southern half of Gaza on Saturday.
There are fears of mounting civilian casualties after Israel dropped leaflets warning residents to leave the southern part of the strip where two million people – almost the entire Gazan population – are based following instructions at the outset of the IDF ground invasion to leave the north of the enclave.
The US and others have urged Tel Aviv to do more to protect Gaza civilians as the Israel-Hamas conflict reignited, something Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer echoed.
Sir Keir on Saturday reiterated his call for a ‘further pause or further cessation of hostilities’ so further work can be carried out to release hostages and send aid to the besieged Palestinians.
Speaking to the BBC during his trip to Dubai for the Cop28 climate summit, he urged both sides, while the fighting is continuing, to attempt to limit the impact on civilians.
Sir Keir said: ‘While we are in this phase of resumption, it is important for me to say that we can’t go back to the way the first phase of this war was conducted.
‘Too many people, innocent individuals, have lost their lives in Israel and across Gaza.
Israeli soldiers with their armoured fighting vehicles gather at a position near the border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, 2 December 2023
Smoke rising from buildings after being hit by Israeli strikes, after battles resumed between Israel and Hamas militants, on December 2, 2023
Some 1.7mn Palestinians have been displaced from their homes, the UN said late in November
‘We can’t go back to where we were just a week or so ago. We have to see this as a different stage.’
Former prime minister Liz Truss struck a different tone as she urged her successor Rishi Sunak to ‘give our full support to the Israeli government’ in the fight against Hamas.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, the Conservative MP – and the UK’s shortest serving prime minister in modern political history – said there should be ‘no ifs, no buts’ for Britain’s backing for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his administration.
‘I don’t want to see double standards applied, that Israel is held to different standards than other countries,’ she said.
‘They are a free democracy in a part of the world where free democracies are rare and the heinous crimes, the rape, the brutality, the kidnapping of children that has taken place is truly horrific.’
While Stateside this week for a delegation visit with the Conservative Friends of Ukraine, Ms Truss told right-wing US broadcaster Fox News that people are being ‘allowed’ to demonstrate ‘in favour of terrorists’ on London’s streets during pro-Palestinian marches.
Ms Truss said protesters were showing they would ‘rather support authoritarian regimes’ than Western values.
The comments come as police said they were ‘surrounded’ by pro-Palestinian supporters in south London following a rally organised during a ‘day of action’ by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
The Metropolitan Police said officers were encircled and prevented from leaving after making two arrests in Windrush Square, Brixton, on Saturday.
More than 80 people have been charged in the UK over alleged hate crimes and violence linked to pro-Palestinian protests since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Lord Cameron, the former prime minister who returned to frontline politics almost three weeks ago to serve as Foreign Secretary, said the UK cannot ‘pretend we can somehow insulate ourselves from these crises’ such as that seen in the Middle East.
Writing in The Sun On Sunday, he said: ‘Conflict in the Middle East doesn’t stay in the region. It can destabilise our allies and trigger mass migrations.
‘And it deeply affects Jewish and Muslim populations in our own countries.
‘Our response needs to be one of strength, resilience and unity.’
The peer said he will be travelling to Washington DC ‘next week’ to work with ‘our closest and strongest ally’ on the response to international issues, including the Ukraine conflict.
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