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Hamas can end the war with Israel immediately, says UK minister

It is estimated that more than 130 people are still being held hostage by Hamas (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)
It is estimated that more than 130 people are still being held hostage by Hamas (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)

Hamas could end the war with Israel immediately by releasing hostages and returning to the table for truce talks, according to a senior Government minister.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said the UK Government wanted to see further pauses in the fighting after a truce between the Palestinian militant group and Israel broke down last week.

“We were very supportive of the humanitarian pauses,” she told Sky News’ Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips programme.

“And we very much hope that Hamas will get back around the table and agree to more of these pauses and release more hostages.

“They could end this tomorrow — today, even.”

The UK has confirmed it is to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over the Middle East, including over Gaza and Israel’s airspace, to search for potential hostage locations being used by Hamas.

In the weeks after Hamas’ 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’ clutches.

Ms Atkins said in broadcast interviews on Sunday that the hunt for hostages would be carried out by “unmanned.. surveillance drones” but the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that was not the case.

Officials said Shadow R1s, a manned aircraft used for intelligence gathering by the Royal Air Force (RAF), would be the first to be deployed on the reconnaissance missions.

Any information on the potential whereabouts of captives will be shared with the Israelis, the MoD said.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps tweeted: “British hostages are still held by Hamas. Their freedom is our utmost priority.

“Hamas should release them and all hostages now.

Israel Palestinians
Hostages taken from Israel continue to be held by Hamas (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit))

“To aid ongoing rescue efforts, unarmed UK aircraft will begin carrying out surveillance flights over Gaza to help locate hostages.”

Fighting resumed on Friday following a week-long truce between Israel and Hamas despite more than 130 hostages remaining in captivity in the Gaza Strip.

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.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry has reported that more than 200 Palestinians have been killed since the violence resumed, taking the death toll within the territory to beyond 15,200.

Some 1,200 Israelis were killed when Hamas carried out its incursion almost two months ago.

Tzipi Hotovely, the Israeli ambassador to the UK, said the war had resumed  because Hamas was “not serious” about releasing hostages.

She told Sky News: “It is Hamas that failed this pause and the reason is that they are still holding 15 women, two children, one of them is a 10-month-old baby.

Tzipi Hotovely
Tzipi Hotovely, Israeli ambassador to the UK (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“We have over 100 hostages still in the hands of Hamas. They are the ones who started firing on Israeli cities and towns on Friday.

“We are back fighting as it seems like Hamas were not serious when they said ‘we’ll release the women and children’.”

Heavy bombardments by Israeli forces were reported overnight in the southern part of the besieged enclave where most of the 2.3 million Gazan population is based, having following instructions to evacuate the territory’s north in the early of the two-month-old war.

Israel’s military ordered more areas in and around Gaza’s second-largest city of Khan Younis to be evacuated on Sunday,

Tel Aviv is shifting its offensive to the southern half of the territory where it claims many Hamas leaders are hiding.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was “very concerned with what has happened in the last day or two with the resumption of hostilities”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme on Sunday: “We need to get back to that pause, that cessation.

“That of course provides the space for discussions about hostages but also desperately needed aid into Gaza and a foot in the door for the process.”

Sir Keir’s party has been split on the issue of a ceasefire, with the leadership refusing to back one in favour of calling for humanitarian pauses to allow people to leave Gaza and for aid to enter.

The position matches that held by the UK Government and the United States.

He said that stance was “producing results” following the truce last week but that “in the long run, there is going to have to be a ceasefire”.