LONDON — Military vessels and surveillance aircraft are among the assets Britain is deploying to the Eastern Mediterranean in response to the attack on Israel by Hamas, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced.
Backed by a barrage of rockets, Hamas militants stormed from the blockaded Gaza Strip into nearby Israeli towns, killing dozens and abducting others in an unprecedented surprise attack during a major Jewish holiday Saturday. In response, the Israeli government declared war on Hamas and vowed to inflict an “unprecedented price.”
Royal Air Force P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, other unspecified surveillance assets, two Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships, three Merlin helicopters and a company of Royal Marines are part of the deployment package meant to support Israel, prevent escalation and aid in humanitarian efforts, the British government said. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary is the support arm of the Royal Navy.
Maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft operations will start as early as Oct. 13 to track threats to regional security, such as the transfer of weapons to terrorist groups, the government added.
A Royal Navy task force will also head to the region next week as a contingency measure to support humanitarian efforts, government noted. The task force will include the landing ship dock RFA Lyme Bay the support and hospital vessel RFA Argus.
HMS Duncan, a Type 45 anti-air destroyer, is already in the Mediterranean Sea as part of a NATO force, but its unclear whether the ship will join the Royal Navy task group.
Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said the military deployment represents an unequivocal statement of support for Israel.
“The Royal Navy Task Group, RAF operations and our wider military support will be an undeniable display of the UK’s resolve to ensure Hamas’s terrorist campaign fails, whilst reminding those who seek to inflame tensions that the forces of freedom stand with the Israeli people,” Shapps said in a statement.
The package will add to an already substantial British presence in the Eastern Mediterranean region, which includes two military bases on Cyprus. The island hosts the largest Royal Air Force base outside the U.K. and houses significant signals- and intelligence-gathering assets.
Hamas’ assault last Saturday killed more than 1,300 people in Israel, including 247 soldiers. Israel says roughly 1,500 Hamas militants were killed inside Israel. The Gaza Health Ministry on Oct. 13 said that 1,799 people have been killed in the territory, including more than 580 under the age of 18 and 351 women.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.