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Israel has legitimate right to defend itself, says Foreign Office minister

·3-min read

Israel has a “legitimate right to defend itself but must do so proportionately”, a Foreign Office minister has said as he urged Hamas to cease rocket attacks after violence intensified in the region.

Unrest in recent days has seen rockets fired from Gaza while Israeli forces have bombarded the territory with air strikes, in the most serious fighting since the 50-day war in 2014.

James Cleverly called footage from the region “heart-breaking”, and said the UK Government is speaking with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to encourage de-escalation on both sides.

He told LBC on Thursday: “We have got to remember that the military wing of Hamas, which is firing these rockets, is a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK.

“There is no legitimate reason for these rockets to be fired, and we have demanded that they cease doing that.

“We recognise that Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself but must do so proportionately.”

Mr Cleverly, the minister for Middle East and North Africa, said Hamas has been firing rockets “indiscriminately” into civilian areas, which he called “completely unacceptable”.

“The simple truth is that the only way they can minimise civilian casualties is for the weapons to stop,” he told BBC Breakfast.

Israel Palestinians
Smoke rises from a collapsed building hit by Israeli air strikes on Gaza City (Khalil Hamra/AP)

“That’s why we demand Hamas to stop flying the rockets and we are encouraging a de-escalation so that Israel does not feel the need to make military strikes into Gaza.

“And that’s the only way really that we are going to stop the casualties, stop the injuries and stop the deaths.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is among those to have called for restraint on both sides as he urged leaders to “step back from the brink”, adding that the UK is alarmed at the mounting toll of civilian casualties.

Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza, claiming to be defending Jerusalem, have fired hundreds of rockets at Tel Aviv and other cities.

Israel has responded with air strikes targeting police and security installations, although the Palestinian authorities said there have been civilian casualties.

As many as 10 senior Hamas military figures were killed on Wednesday as Israel pressed ahead with a fierce military offensive, while Hamas and other groups showed no signs of backing down and fired rockets at Israeli cities.

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The death toll in Gaza rose to 69 Palestinians, including 16 children and six women, according to the health ministry.

A total of seven people have been killed in Israel, including four on Wednesday.

The latest upsurge in violence has been triggered by tensions in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with clashes at a holy site sacred to both Jews and Muslims.

Preparations for Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of a month of day-long fasting, have been sombre in Gaza, as residents brace themselves for further devastation and unrest.