David Cameron has urged Hamas to enter into ceasefire negotiations with Israel as the casualty toll in Gaza continues to rise.
While the Prime Minister expressed “grave concern” about the deaths of Palestinian civilians, he made clear he held the terror group responsible for the current crisis.
In a Commons statement, he again defended Israel’s right to defend itself in the face of an “unprecedented barrage” of rocket attacks from the Islamist organisation.
More than 500 Palestinians are reported to have died in the fighting and more than 3,000 have been injured while 18 Israeli soldiers and two civilians have been killed.
Mr Cameron, who spoke last night to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that unlike Hamas, the Israelis had been prepared to accept a ceasefire offer tabled by Egypt.
“The crisis was triggered by Hamas raining hundreds of rockets on Israeli cities, in indiscriminately targeting civilians in contravention of all humanitarian law and norms,” Mr Cameron said.
“I have been clear throughout this crisis that Israel has the right to defend itself. Those criticising Israel’s response must ask themselves how they would expect their own government to react if hundreds of rockets were raining down on British cities today.
“But I share the grave concern of many in the international community about the heavy toll of civilian casualties. The figures are very disturbing.”
He added: “It is vital that Hamas recognise the need to enter serious negotiations to end this crisis. In particular we urge Hamas to engage with the ceasefire proposals put forward by the Egyptian government.”
Earlier Israel’s armed forces distributed an image of the Houses of Parliament in London under missile attack, in the hope of persuading Britons that the country’s military incursion into Gaza is justified.
A message on the official Twitter feed of the Israel Defence Forces showed a doctored picture of missiles raining down on Westminster under the text: “Hamas terrorists just fired rockets at southern and central Israel. What if they were attacking your home?”
Last week Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip amounted to a “deliberately disproportionate form of collective punishment”.
Today, Mr Clegg said in a press conference: “It is simply intolerable that the people ofIsrael need to continue to live in constant fear and terror that their homes are going to be bombarded by rockets fired from Gaza. Israel has every right to defend itself from those reprehensible rocket attacks.
“But equally, it is essential that Israel acts proportionately. There is now an outright humanitarian crisis in Gaza affecting thousands upon thousands of Gazans.
“The very high death toll of the civilian population in Gaza is of immense concern to us and that is why we believe, as most of the international community believes, that in the long run the security of Israeli citizens and the peace and dignity of the Palestinian people can only be guaranteed through a proper two-state solution. That is the only long-term solution.
“Violence begets violence. Yet another cycle of violence in Gaza will not provide the security which everybody craves in the region.”
Mr Clegg described the situation of ordinary Palestinians, who have lost loved ones and homes and been forced to live without adequate supplies of food, water and electricity in Gaza, as “a form of collective suffering for the sins of Hamas, who are unacceptably firing rockets into Israel”.
In a speech in London, the Middle East peace envoy of the Quartet – the US, EU, UN and Russia – Tony Blair said: “I am sad and angry about the tragedy of the Gaza conflict, its people pawns in a wider struggle, hundreds of Palestinians – including many children – losing their lives in this nightmare.
“I witness the fear and insecurity of Israelis who still see their right to exist under challenge. I long to see two peoples and two states side by side in peace.”
Mr Blair added: “It is vitally important that we put in place a long-term solution for Gaza.”
The UK is providing £5 million in emergency support to those affected by the violence in Gaza.
Mr Cameron today said £2 million would be committed to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA) Flash Appeal to help 84,000 people forced from their homes.
A further £3 million is being brought forward to help the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and assistance is also being diverted to help rebuild UN-run schools that are being used as shelters.
International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: “The escalation in violence has had a devastating impact on civilians.
“More than 500 Palestinians are now reported to have been killed with at least 83 children among the dead and more than 100,000 people have had to flee their homes.
“This new support from the UK will provide lifesaving food, shelter and clean water to those in desperate need as a result of the fighting.
“We must see an immediate de-escalation and ceasefire to prevent further civilian loss of life, followed by a return to peaceful negotiations.”
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said: “Following the deadliest day of the conflict in Gaza so far, I welcome the decision by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to travel to Cairo now to help secure an urgent ceasefire.
“Last week I said that there could be no military solution to this conflict and that a ground operation into Gaza would be counterproductive. Today, as rockets continue to be fired atIsrael, and Hamas militants are infiltrating across the border with Gaza, there is little evidence that this incursion is delivering the safety that citizens on both sides deserve.
“Labour is clear that there is now not only a need for an immediate ceasefire, but also that we oppose this further escalation of the conflict.”