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Rishi Sunak could visit Israel as soon as Thursday, Sky News understands | Politics News

Rishi Sunak is set to visit Israel, possibly as soon as Thursday, Sky News understands.

The prime minister’s trip could be part of a broader visit to the region, which may include stops in Jordan and Egypt.

It follows visits from Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz today and US president Joe Biden on Wednesday.

Israel-Gaza latest: IDF hints at ‘something different’ to ground offensive

And it comes amid growing concern about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with calls to open aid corridors as the Israeli military prepares for the next phase of its campaign against Hamas following the incursion on 7 October.

At least 1,400 people were killed, thousands more injured and almost 200 taken hostage when Hamas carried out the surprise assault on Israel, the most deadly attack by the group in decades.

Since then, at least 2,778 Palestinians have been killed as Israel launched retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza and cut off fuel, water, food and medical supplies from entering the cramped territory, which is home to more than two million people.

Mr Biden is travelling to Israel on Wednesday amid concerns the conflict could spiral into a wider regional issue.

As part of his trip, the US president will also meet King Abdullah of Jordan, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also travelled to Israel for an impromptu visit on Tuesday, while French President Emmanuel Macron said he will travel to the region “as soon as I consider that we have a useful agenda and very concrete actions to drive forward”.

News of Mr Sunak’s visit emerged before a strike on a hospital in Gaza which Palestinian officials claimed killed at least 500 people. Israel denied involvement in the blast, saying the explosion was caused by a misfired Palestinian rocket.

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Former CIA Director General David Petraeus assesses the impact of President Biden visiting Israel.

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Downing Street would not comment publicly on whether Mr Sunak would head to the region.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We’ll set out travel plans in the usual way, I couldn’t get into speculation.”

However Mark Regev, an advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Sky News on Tuesday night he was scheduled to visit.

Asked if it’s best President Biden doesn’t travel to Israel, he said: “I disagree, I disagree. And it’s not just he [who’s] coming – your prime minister, the British prime minister is supposed to come, the French prime minister’s supposed to come.”

Mr Sunak updated Cabinet on Tuesday with the latest developments from the conflict, telling ministers Hamas was responsible for the “murder and suspected abduction of British nationals”.

At least six Britons were killed in the Hamas attacks, with a further 10 missing – some feared dead.

Mr Sunak also held calls with the leaders of Qatar and Saudi Arabia when it was agreed the conflict “must not be allowed to destabilise the wider region and cause further bloodshed”.

They also held conversations on efforts to free Britons taken hostage by Hamas, and on ensuring safe passage for aid to Gaza.

British officials are working to secure the opening of the Rafah crossing to allow Britons to flee to Egypt and for humanitarian aid to get into Gaza.

Cabinet reshuffle: Greg Hands replaces Zahawi as Conservative Party chairman as Sunak’s first reshuffle begins, Sky News understands | Politics News

Greg Hands has replaced Nadhim Zahawi as Conservative Party chairman as Rishi Sunak begins the first reshuffle of his cabinet, Sky News understands.

Mr Hands, MP for Chelsea and Fulham, takes over the role that will involve leading the Tories through the next election, which they are currently set to lose to Labour.

His appointment comes just over a week after former chair Mr Zahawi was sacked over the handling of his tax affairs.

Sky News also understands business, energy and industrial strategy secretary Grant Shapps will be made energy security secretary in a newly created department dedicated to energy.

And former Tory leadership contender Kemi Badenoch is to be moved from international trade secretary to business and trade secretary, taking over part of the job Mr Shapps leaves vacant and maintaining her previous role.

Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan is understood to be moving to what Sky News believes will be the new Department of Science, Innovation and Technology.

Who is Greg Hands?

Mr Hands is well-liked by fellow Tories and has been an MP since 2005, first in Hammersmith and Fulham, then Chelsea and Fulham since its creation in 2010.

Seen as a steady pair of hands, he has remained as a minister for the most part of the past eight years after first serving in David Cameron’s cabinet as chief secretary to the Treasury.

A staunch remainer, he was demoted by Theresa May to a junior minister at the Department for International Trade then was also made Minister for London.

He resigned in 2018 over his opposition to Heathrow’s third runway but Boris Johnson returned him to trade policy minister before promoting him to business, energy and clean growth minister.

Liz Truss made him trade policy minister days before she stepped down and Mr Sunak kept him on.

The New York and UK state-school educated politician joined the Conservative Party as a student at Cambridge before spending eight years as a banker in London and New York.

A polyglot who speaks five European languages, Mr Hands’ gained his campaigning experience fairly early on in his political career when he had to fight for the newly formed Chelsea and Fulham seat after his constituency was split in two.

As a Tory councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham before becoming an MP, he built up a formidable reputation as a local campaigner, with an impressive knowledge for knowing local people’s names and issues they stood for, Conservative Home reported in 2014.

As party chairman, he will be in charge of helping the Tories fight the next election, which at the moment they are predicted to lose to Labour.

He also served as a whip then deputy chief whip under Mr Cameron so has experience in coordinating his fellow MPs – an essential to fight the next election.

Ambulance workers expected to announce further strike dates, Sky News understands | Politics News

The GMB union is expected to announce further ambulance worker strike dates this Wednesday, Sky News understands.

Members held a meeting that lasted more than two hours on Monday following a long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.

They will announce the outcome of today’s ambulance committee meeting at 1pm on Wednesday, Sky News can reveal.

Up to six more dates are being discussed after talks with Health Secretary Steve Barclay last week broke down.

Lib Whitfield, from GMB, said: “There’s a huge amount of anger from our members working in the ambulance service and from the representatives that Steve Barclay is not taking this seriously.

“Our members are saving lives day in, day out, and that is actually at risk because of the cuts they’ve made to the service. Our members will not back down in this fight and they need Steve Barclay to actually take them seriously.”

GMB members at the meeting were said to be “very angry”, especially over the anti-strikes bill being debated in parliament today, which will mean key industries will have to legally ensure minimum service levels during walk-outs.

Last Wednesday, about 25,000 ambulance workers across England and Wales went on strike.

Staggered walkouts by paramedics, call handlers, drivers and technicians from the Unison and GMB unions took place over a 24-hour period.

NHS England figures released last week show average ambulance response times in England last month were the longest on record.

In December, the average response time for ambulances dealing with the most urgent incidents – defined as calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries – was 10 minutes and 57 seconds. The target is seven minutes.

Manston migrant processing centre now empty, Sky News understands | Politics News

There are now no people at the Manston migrant processing centre, Sky News understands.

The Home Office site in Kent, where thousands of migrants arriving in small boats have been taken since it opened in January, currently has zero people in it.

In recent weeks Manston has been at the centre of controversy as it is designed to hold up to 1,600 people for no more than 24 hours.

But earlier this month there were about 4,000 people in the centre, some who said they had been there for much longer than they should have been.

Migrants said they were sleeping on cardboard and unrest was spreading due to the conditions.

Concerns over infectious diseases were raised, with reports of diphtheria.

Three days ago, a man staying at the centre became unwell and died after arriving in the UK by small boat the weekend before.

There is “no evidence at this stage” to suggest the death was “caused by an infectious disease”, the Home Office said.

The Home Office said there will be no detailed comment until a post-mortem examination has been carried out.