Britons are “highly likely” to be among those held by Hamas in Gaza, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has told Sky News.
The cabinet minister revealed the UK had also sent additional intelligence personnel to the region as part of efforts to release those captured or assist citizens trapped in the besieged enclave.
His comments came as the UK prepares to send RAF aircraft and Royal Navy ships to the eastern Mediterranean to support Israel and “send a signal” to the wider region in the wake of the surprise attack by Hamas on Saturday, unleashing a conflict that has already claimed at least 2,400 lives.
Pressed over whether UK citizens were among those kidnapped by insurgents, Mr Shapps said: “It seems very likely that there are. We don’t have exact data on that for obvious reasons.
“But within Gaza, there will also be Brits, or possibly people with dual nationalities as well.
“The prime minister has spoken to the Egyptian president about using that border to get people out.
“The situation is far from clear.
“It’s one of the reasons, as I mentioned before, we’ve sent additional personnel, intelligence personnel, in order to assist with exactly those types of operations.”
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Mr Shapps added: “It is highly likely no one will know for sure, that there are those with, either British nationals or people with a joint nationality involved in the hostage situation that has been reported previously.
“Secondly, that we’re sending assistance and expertise, including intelligence, to the region and to a number of different locations.”
The military force being deployed by the UK includes P8 surveillance aircraft, two Royal Navy ships – Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessels Lyme Bay and Argus – three Merlin helicopters and a company of Royal Marines.
Mr Shapps said: “We do in fact have warships in the region if we needed to, but we don’t want to be escalate, you know, to escalate the situation.
“What we want to do is assist and by working with our friends and allies.
“That is exactly what this is intended to do. We are also… thickening or bolstering our intelligence gathering with people on the ground throughout the region as well.
“So our input is actually quite substantial and working in hand-in-glove with our allies and particularly the Americans in this case.”
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