UK to start Gaza surveillance flights to locate captives held by Hamas

uk to start gaza surveillance flights to locate captives held by hamas

Palestinian fighters accompany newly released captives before handing them over to the Red Cross in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on November 28, 2023 [AFP]

The UK’s military will conduct surveillance flights over Gaza to help locate captives held by Hamas, according to the British Ministry of Defence, joining the US in backing Israel in its war against the Palestinian armed group.

Hamas fighters seized about 240 Israelis and foreign captives during their October 7 attack, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel says 110 have since been freed – 86 Israelis and 24 foreigners – in exchange for some 240 Palestinian prisoners, mainly during a recent weeklong truce that ended on Friday.

Israel’s military said on Friday it had resumed bombardment of the besieged Palestinian territory. It blamed Hamas for the end of the truce that brought respite to people in Gaza from weeks of devastating bombing.

The resumption of combat has frustrated hopes for the swift release of the about 130 captives the Israeli army has said are still being held in Gaza.

The UK has said at least 12 British nationals were killed in the October 7 attacks – in which Israeli officials say about 1,200 people died, mostly civilians – and that a further five are still missing.

London has not confirmed how many of its citizens are being held by Hamas.

Israel responded to the October 7 attack by vowing to eliminate the Hamas group and its subsequent relentless air and ground campaign has killed more than 15,000 people, also mostly civilians, according to the authorities in Gaza.

Hamas has stated that it will continue negotiations on the release of further captives only after the end of the Gaza war, while Israel withdrew from the talks mediated by Qatar, Egypt and the United States.

‘Drones to be utilised’

Britain did not reveal when its military surveillance flights over the territory would start but stressed they would be unarmed and focused only on the captive recovery efforts.

“In support of the ongoing hostage rescue activity, the UK Ministry of Defence will conduct surveillance flights over the Eastern Mediterranean, including operating in air space over Israel and Gaza,” it said in a statement.

“Surveillance aircraft will be unarmed, do not have a combat role, and will be tasked solely to locate hostages,” the ministry added.

“Only information relating to hostage rescue will be passed to the relevant authorities responsible for hostage rescue.”

UK government minister Victoria Atkins told the BBC on Sunday that the aircraft to be utilised were “unarmed and unmanned drones”.

Alongside the United States, the UK in October deployed various military assets to the Eastern Mediterranean to deter “any malign interference in the conflict”.

That included maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft as well as a Royal Navy task group moving to the region, the Defence Ministry said at the time.

Britain’s defence exports to Israel were 42 million pounds ($53m) last year, according to Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, who has said that London has no plans to stop arms sales to the UK.

Meanwhile, the White House, the largest supplier of arms to Israel, aims to lift nearly all restrictions on Israel’s access to weapons from the US.

If granted by lawmakers, the request would enable Israel to access more high-powered US weapons at a reduced cost, with less congressional oversight.

A report by The Wall Street Journal recently said that Washington gave so-called ‘bunker buster’ bombs and an array of other munitions to Israel for its war on Gaza.

The US has transferred 100 BLU-109 bombs to Israel that are meant to penetrate hardened structures before exploding, the report said, quoting unnamed US officials. Washington has also promised $14bn in aid to Israel – its closest ally in the Middle East – in addition to the $3.8bn annual military assistance.

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