Israel risks losing international sympathy if it launches a ground invasion in Gaza in a bid to crack down on Hamas militants, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said today.
Hamas bears “principal responsibility” for sparking the current conflict in Gaza, Mr Hague said, after firing rockets into southern Israel.
But the Foreign Secretary warned against further escalation of the fighting, which has entered a fifth day.
Mr Hague’s comments came as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reported to have told his cabinet the Israel Defence Forces were prepared for a “serious broadening” of the operation in Gaza.
Speaking to the Sky News Murnaghan programme, Mr Hague said: “We are gravely concerned about this situation.
“We call on Hamas again to stop the rocket attacks on Israel, it is Hamas that bears principal responsibility for starting all of this and we would like to see an agreed ceasefire – an essential component of which is an end to those rocket attacks.
“The Prime Minister and I have both stressed to our Israeli counterparts that a ground invasion of Gaza would lose Israel a lot of the international support and sympathy they have in this situation.
“A ground invasion is much more difficult for the international community to sympathise with or support, including the United Kingdom.”
Mr Hague accused Iran of playing a key role in supplying Hamas militants with arms and the rockets which sparked the current crisis.
And he said it was vital to look beyond the “hour to hour” developments on the ground and seek a solution to the wider regional issues.
Mr Hague said: “We not only have the Gaza conflict going on, but the appalling situation in Syria, rising tensions with Iran over their nuclear programme.
“It’s very important to see the full strategic context of this – it’s also very important to be able to get the Middle East peace process going again in a serious way in the coming weeks and months and it’s important not to do things that make it even more difficult to do that.”
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander told the BBC Andrew Marr programme an escalation in violence in Gaza would be pointless.
He said “real breakthroughs” had only ever been achieved when leaders on both sides of the conflict genuinely sought a resolution.
Mr Alexander said: “I’ve already called for an end to the violence.
“There have tragically been the deaths of three Israelis but more than 40 Palestinians. It simply does not make sense for there to be an escalation to the violence when we need the violence to end and the talking to begin.”
The shadow foreign secretary said the dangers of the Gaza conflict were exacerbated by the “fragile and febrile” situation in the wider Middle East, particularly amid ongoing fighting in Syria.