ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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UK to start Gaza surveillance flights to help find hostages from Israel held by Hamas

Defense Ministry says surveillance aircraft will be unarmed and ‘tasked solely to locate hostages’; Palestinian terror group urges London to ‘reconsider’

A military drone flies over the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Dec. 3, 2023. (AP/Leo Correa)
A military drone flies over the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Dec. 3, 2023. (AP/Leo Correa)

LONDON, UK — The UK’s military will conduct surveillance flights over Gaza to help locate hostages held by terror group Hamas since its October 7 shock assault on Israel, Britain’s defense ministry confirmed this weekend.

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

“In support of the ongoing hostage rescue activity, the UK Ministry of Defense will conduct surveillance flights over the Eastern Mediterranean, including operating in air space over Israel and Gaza,” the defense ministry 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 utilized were “unarmed and unmanned drones.”

On October 7, some 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly — slaughtered amid brutal atrocities.

The UK has said at least 12 British nationals were killed in the October 7 attacks and that a further five are still missing.

In response to October 7, Israel declared war and has vowed to eliminate the Hamas terror group ruling Gaza, launching a campaign that has left vast swaths of the Strip in ruin and thousands of civilians dead according to unverified Palestinian claims. The toll has drawn international criticism and pressure on Israel, including from the US.

The war came to an agreed pause last week for a seven-day ceasefire that secured the release of more than 100 civilian hostages over the week, mostly Israeli women and children, as well as foreign nationals. The temporary truce broke down late Thursday, after Hamas would not produce a list of additional hostages set for release the next day, per the Qatar-brokered agreement to release all civilian women and children.

Israel believes Hamas is still holding roughly 17 more women and two children, including the youngest hostage — Kfir Bibas — who is 10 months old.

At least 130 more people are still believed to be held hostage in Gaza, over 100 of them Israeli men, civilian and military. Eleven are foreign nationals, including eight from Thailand.

Fighting resumed early Friday early morning, amid reported ongoing efforts to renew the truce and secure the release of more hostages.

In a statement on Sunday, Hamas denounced the UK’s planned flights and called on London “to reconsider” its decision, the terror group said.

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 defense ministry said at the time.

Also Sunday, commercial ships tied to some 14 countries came under an hours-long attack in the Red Sea by Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.

The attack potentially marked a major escalation in a series of maritime attacks in the Mideast linked to the Israel-Hamas war as multiple vessels found themselves in the crosshairs of a single Houthi assault for the first time in the conflict.

The US military says Washington has “every reason to believe that these attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran.”

“The United States will consider all appropriate responses in full coordination with its international allies and partners,” the US Central Command said in a statement.

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