UK & World News

  • 24 July 2014, 12:10

Hammond: West 'Losing Sympathy For Israel'

The British Foreign Secretary has told Sky News the West is losing sympathy for Israel as civilian deaths mount during its offensive in Gaza.

Philip Hammond held late night talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah before meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as part of international efforts to broker a ceasefire continue.

In an interview with Sky News, he said: "As this campaign goes on and the civilian casualties in Gaza mount, Western opinion is becoming more and more concerned and less and less sympathetic to Israel.

"That's simply a fact and I have to tell that to my Israeli counterparts."

Sky's David Bowden in Jerusalem said the minister's comments were "code" for saying: "Look, you've been in, you've smashed up what you need to smash up, it's now time to draw back and start talking, certainly through mediators, and stop the death and destruction that people are seeing in Gaza."

At a joint news conference with the Israeli PMlater, Mr Hammond said Britain was "gravely concerned" by the heavy number of casualties in Gaza.

Mr Netanyahusaid: "We started this operation to return peace and quiet to Israel... and we shall return it."

Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza on July 17 after more than a week of strikes aimed at stopping rocket fire into the country.

Since then, some 736 Palestinians have now died - more than 165 of these children, according to Palestinian medics, while Israel has lost 32 soldiers..

Israel has said it would continue hunting Palestinian cross-border tunnels even if a humanitarian truce were declared.

Israeli cabinet minister Yaakov Peri told the Walla news website: "I can say authoritatively that two or three days will not be enough to finish tackling the tunnels."

Hamasalso rejected any truce without the lifting of Israel's eight-year blockade of Gaza.

"We will not accept any initiative that does not lift the blockade on our people and that does not respect their sacrifices," said Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.

Earlier, Mr Hammond warned an international inquiry into Israel's actions in Gaza will not help efforts to achieve a ceasefire, but rather"complicate the process by introducing unnecessary new mechanisms".

The UN Human Rights Council has voted to back a Palestinian resolution to begin an investigation, as Human Rights CommissionerNavi Pillaysaid there was a "strong possibility" Israel was guilty of war crimes.

Ms Pillay also condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars by the Islamist movement Hamas, which controls Gaza, into Israel.

The continued fighting has caused flights into Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport to be affected after a rocket struck close to the runways on Tuesday.

EasyJet has extended the suspension of its services into Thursday, confirming it would not operate flights from Luton, Gatwick, Basel, Berlin Schoenefeld, Geneva, Manchester and Milan Malpensa.

The European safety regulator EASA also strongly recommended European airlines against flying there "until further notice".

A ban on US airlines flying to Tel Aviv has however been lifted by the Federal Aviation Administration.

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