Israel-Gaza war: ‘Highly likely’ hostages held by Hamas include Britons, says Defence Secretary Grant Shapps | Politics News
Britons are “highly likely” to be among those held by Hamas in Gaza, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has told Sky News.
The cabinet minister revealed the UK had also sent additional intelligence personnel to the region as part of efforts to release those captured or assist citizens trapped in the besieged enclave.
His comments came just before Hamas claimed Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip had killed 13 hostages, including foreigners, held by the group.
The UK is sending RAF aircraft and Royal Navy ships to the eastern Mediterranean to support Israel and “send a signal” to the wider region in the wake of the surprise attack by militants on Saturday, which has unleashed a conflict that has already claimed at least 2,700 lives.
Pressed over whether UK citizens were among those kidnapped by insurgents and held in Gaza, Mr Shapps said: “It seems very likely that there are. We don’t have exact data on that for obvious reasons.
“But within Gaza, there will also be Brits, or possibly people with dual nationalities as well.
“The prime minister has spoken to the Egyptian president about using that border to get people out.
“The situation is far from clear.
“It’s one of the reasons, as I mentioned before, we’ve sent additional personnel, intelligence personnel, in order to assist with exactly those types of operations.”
Mr Shapps added: “It is highly likely – no one will know for sure – that there are… either British nationals or people with a joint nationality involved in the hostage situation that has been reported previously.”
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Shapps defends ‘substantial’ UK support
To date, at least 1,300 Israelis have died while 1,417 Palestinians, including 447 children, have been killed in retaliatory strikes in Gaza – where electricity, water and fuel have been cut off.
The Foreign Office said flights have been organised to get British nationals out of Israel, with the first plane for “vulnerable” people expected to depart today.
The military force being deployed by the UK to the region includes P8 surveillance aircraft, two Royal Navy ships – Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessels Lyme Bay and Argus – three Merlin helicopters and a company of Royal Marines.
Critics have highlighted the UK force will be a token gesture compared to the support provided by the US.
But Mr Shapps said: “We do in fact have warships in the region if we needed to, but we don’t want to escalate the situation.
“What we want to do is assist and by working with our friends and allies.
“That is exactly what this is intended to do.
“We are also… thickening or bolstering our intelligence gathering with people on the ground throughout the region as well.
“So our input is actually quite substantial and working in hand-in-glove with our allies and particularly the Americans in this case.”
He went on: “It’s intelligence, surveillance and really a signal to the wider region and perhaps those actors who might now try to exploit this terrorist, Hamas situation.”
Read more on this story:
Why Israel is braced for Hezbollah attack
How negotiators will be working to free Hamas hostages
Gaza ground offensive will be ‘high-risk’ for Israel
‘Israel is doing all it can to warn people’
Mr Shapps also insisted Israel had the right to defend itself when questioned over the evacuation order for more than a million Palestinians to move to the south of Gaza in the next 24 hours, in the face of a possible ground offensive.
He said: “Israel, unlike Hamas – who again, and I saw this at NATO where we had a full briefing on what happened, including seeing some very distressing video of Hamas beheading people, murdering people, showing off the bodies and dragging them through the street, raping people – unlike that terrorist organisation, Israel is doing all it can to provide advance notice and warning in order that they can go after those terrorists who carried out those actions, and by the way have taken hostages as well.
“Hamas can bring all of this to an end, they can release the hostages, they can recognise not just Israel, [but also] remove from their founding charter the principle of eradicating all Jews from the Earth.”
He added: “Israel on the other hand has the perfect right to defend itself. It is doing that in a manner which is giving people warning in advance when they are going to go after areas.”
At home, the government also announced it would provide an extra £3m in funding to bolster security at Jewish schools following reports some had been forced to close over fears of the safety of pupils.