Hamas has given no indication it “desires or would abide by calls for a ceasefire”, according to the Foreign Secretary.
James Cleverly also urged pro-Palestinian supporters demonstrating on British streets over the weekend to be “conscious of disinformation and manipulation” following reports Iran is attempting to use the rallies to sow division.
The Cabinet minister’s intervention comes as Israel’s military continued to expand its ground operation in Gaza as part of its ongoing retaliation against Hamas’s deadly raids three weeks ago that left 1,400 people, mainly civilians, dead.
A spokesman for Tel Aviv’s military on Saturday said infantry and armoured vehicles were being backed by “massive” strikes from the air and sea in a sign it could be moving closer to an all-out invasion of Gaza.
As part of the stepped-up bombardment of the 25-mile stretch, Israel also knocked out communications and created a near-blackout of information, largely cutting off the 2.3 million people in besieged Gaza from contact with the outside world.
As the Palestinian death toll mounts, with the Hamas-controlled Gazan health ministry saying more than 7,000 people have been killed, demands for a ceasefire are growing among UK politicians.
Mr Cleverly said “calls for a ceasefire in the abstract aren’t going to help the situation”.
The UK Government’s position, backed by Labour and Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer, has been to push for “humanitarian pauses” to allow aid into Gaza and to allow people, including 200 trapped British nationals, to escape the territory.
Sir Keir is facing pressure to change tack after a number of senior Labour figures, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan and a host of shadow ministers, came out in support of a ceasefire.
The Foreign Secretary told broadcasters: “We have consistently sought to bring about pauses to facilitate the inward passage of humanitarian aid that we are providing and the release of hostages and the evacuation of British nationals in Gaza, so that has been our position from the start.
“Of course we want to see this resolved, we want to see Israel safe, peaceful and secure.
“But, as yet, I have seen or heard nothing from Hamas that gives me any confidence that they desire or would abide by calls for a ceasefire.”
He said the Palestinian militant group “habitually embed military capabilities within civilian infrastructure” in a move he said was “internationally recognised” as “completely inappropriate”.
Mr Cleverly reiterated the Government’s position that Israel has a right to defend itself after Hamas’s attack on October 7.
“Of course we are having conversations and will continue to have conversations with the Israeli military about the preservation of civilian life, about the adherence to international law,” he added.
“But they do have a right to self-defence and throughout this operation, since the atrocities of October 7, Hamas and other terrorist organisations have consistently bombarded Israel from Gaza, from among civilian infrastructure.”
The senior Conservative minister also had a word of caution for those joining demonstrations in the UK in support of Palestine on Saturday.
Police were expecting about 100,000 people to join a demonstration in London demanding a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, with other rallies organised elsewhere in the UK including in Manchester and Glasgow.
The Times reported that counter-terrorism officers have privately said Iran is attempting to heighten tensions at rallies over Israel’s bombing of Gaza and were warning of increased hostile-state activity in Britain.
The newspaper said Iranian activity included a campaign of online disinformation and Tehran operatives being physically present at protests.
Iran is reportedly backing Hamas in Gaza and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, another Islamist political and militant group agitating against Israel.
Asked about suggestions that Iran could be attempting to create unrest in the UK, Mr Cleverly said there had “often been attempts to subvert the actions of other people”.
He added: “It is perfectly possible to support the Palestinian people but also to condemn Hamas.
“But, sadly, we do see people being manipulated, subject to disinformation, distortion, and sadly I do think a minority — a small minority — within those protests have got very much more negative aims.
“I would say to everyone involved in the protests, be conscious of this, be conscious about disinformation and manipulation.”
In central London, protesters gathered with banners and posters, with some letting off red and green flares along the route.
Demonstrators clashed with police, with two arrests made on Saturday afternoon by officers policing the protest.
One man was arrested on Whitehall after a police officer was assaulted, the Metropolitan Police said on X, formerly Twitter.
A Section 60 and Section 60AA authority was put in place until midnight, giving police stop and search powers in the London boroughs of the City of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea.
Commander Gordon has authorised a Section 60 and Section 60AA authority at 1524 hours today.
This applies in the London Boroughs of the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Both powers will remain in place until midnight tonight.
— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) October 28, 2023
A Section 60 AA requires a person to remove items that might be used to conceal their identity, such as masks.
Participants also chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, despite controversy around the slogan’s meaning.
Cries of “Allahu akbar”, the Arabic phrase for “God is great”, also rang out.
Counter demonstrations also took place in London, with dozens of people with Union flags standing close to the Cenotaph on Whitehall.
Ahead of the pro-Palestine demonstration, the Met had said that officers would intervene if protesters use the word “jihad” in chants in London over the weekend.
Kyle Gordon, who is leading the force’s command team, told a press briefing that, following an intervention, officers would gather information and report back before a decision is taken in collaboration with its counter-terrorism unit to determine “what the best course of action is”.