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Defence Secretary to Visit Israel, Palestine

He reiterated UK’s support to Israel’s right to defence, but pointed out that “it is important their fight against Hamas remains within international law.”…reports Asian Lite News

UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps will push for humanitarian aid to be delivered to Palestinians faster – including by sea directly into Gaza – when he visits Palestine and Israel this week, the Ministry of Defence has announced.

During the trip, Shapps will discuss options with leaders to provide civilians in Gaza with more aid and how the UK can support the Palestinian Authority, as well as efforts to prevent further escalation in the Middle East.

He will also discuss progress in recovering hostages – including a number of Britons – who were taken by Hamas during the 7 October attacks.

With Palestinian civilians experiencing a growing humanitarian crisis, the Defence Secretary will address options for providing Gaza with more medical and humanitarian aid, including potential routes via land, sea, and air. To date, four RAF flights carrying over 74 tonnes of aid have landed in Egypt with aid bound for Palestinians.  

“My visit this week is an important opportunity to discuss efforts to accelerate the delivery of lifesaving humanitarian assistance into Gaza and efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages,” Shapps said. “We are working to find the best way to get aid and support to those in desperate need in the quickest and most direct route. That includes options by land, sea and air.

“We have deployed an extra 1,000 military personnel in the Middle East and our forces are there to support the humanitarian aid effort and help in stabilising the area,” he added.

He reiterated UK’s support to Israel’s right to defence, but pointed out that “it is important their fight against Hamas remains within international law.”

Meanwhile in Palestine, the Defence Secretary is expected to meet the Interior Minister of the Palestinian Authority, General Ziad Hab Al-Reeh, to address the urgent need for measures to improve security for Palestinians in the West Bank.  

In Tel Aviv, the Defence Secretary will meet Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant to address the current security situation and Israel’s next steps. The UK has made clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against terror, restore its security and bring the hostages home, but it must abide by international humanitarian law and take all possible measures to protect civilians.

Since Hamas attacks against Israel on 7 October, the UK has increased its military presence in the region in order to support contingency planning, monitor the evolving situation, and to be ready to react and respond to regional threats. 

This included the deployment of a Royal Navy task group to the eastern Mediterranean, including RFA Lyme Bay and RFA Argus, three Merlin helicopters and a company of Royal Marines. In support of the ongoing hostage rescue activity, the UK Ministry of Defence is also conducting unarmed surveillance flights over the eastern Mediterranean, including operating in airspace over Israel and Gaza.

In total, the UK has deployed an additional 1,000 personnel to the Middle East, bringing the total number of Armed Forces personnel deployed to the region to around 2,500 – including those deployed for counter-Daesh operations, training, and maritime security. 

Last week, the Defence Secretary also announced that HMS Diamond is deploying east of Suez to join HMS Lancaster on Operation Kipion, the UK’s longstanding maritime presence in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean, following increasing concerns about the security of important maritime trade routes.

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Wallace to quit as Defence Secretary

Wallace has played a vocal role in supporting Ukraine, including overseeing the transfer of weapons and vehicles to its army. His position as defence secretary when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine saw his profile increase at home and abroad…reports Asian Lite News

Ben Wallace says he will step down as defence secretary at the next Cabinet reshuffle after four years in the job. He told the Sunday Times he would not stand at the next general election, but ruled out leaving “prematurely” and triggering a by-election.

Wallace has served as defence secretary under three prime ministers and has played a high-profile role in the UK’s response to the Ukraine war. Sources said they expect the next reshuffle in September.

Rishi Sunak is reportedly planning to shake up his top team, but no date has been confirmed. Wallace said he was quitting frontline politics due to the toll it had taken on his family, and allies of his have said the decision was not a reflection on Mr Sunak’s leadership.

His Wyre and Preston North constituency is set to disappear at the next election under upcoming boundary changes and he told the newspaper he would not seek a new one. The 53-year-old’s confirmation of his plans to the Sunday Times comes after days of speculation that he was considering leaving government.

Last week, the prime minister disowned comments from Wallace in which he suggested Ukraine should show more “gratitude” for the military support it has been given. The comments were made at a fringe event at the Nato summit in Vilnius, after Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky said it was “absurd” that Nato would not give a timetable for his country securing membership of the bloc once the war with Russia is over.

On Twitter on Saturday evening, writing in Ukrainian, Mr Wallace said his comments had been “somewhat misrepresented”, and he was making the point that in some parliaments there “is not such strong support as in Great Britain”.

He said his comments had not been about governments but “more about citizens and members of parliaments”. He noted the strong support for Ukraine amongst the British public, and added he would “continue to support Ukraine on its path for as long as it takes”.

Wallace informed the prime minister on 16 June of his decision to stand down from the Cabinet. Wallace told the Sunday Times: “I went into politics in the Scottish parliament in 1999. That’s 24 years. I’ve spent well over seven years with three phones by my bed.”

He suggested in the interview that he would continue to call for higher defence spending, something he has campaigned for throughout his time in the role.

It comes weeks after Wallace said he was no longer in the running to be the next secretary general of Nato, a role he was widely reported to be seeking. The announcement that Jens Stoltenberg would be continuing in the job effectively ended his hopes of becoming the next head of the military bloc.

Wallace has played a vocal role in supporting Ukraine, including overseeing the transfer of weapons and vehicles to its army. His position as defence secretary when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine saw his profile increase at home and abroad.

He is a popular figure in the Conservative Party and was, at times, seen as a frontrunner to become party leader, though never stood in a leadership election.

Wallace has served longer in the role than any Conservative defence secretary before him, but told the Sunday Times he was conscious of the impact the job has had on his family. Wallace told the newspaper: “While I am proud to have worked with so many amazing people and helped contribute to protecting this great country, the cost of putting that ahead of my family is something I am very sad about.”

Before entering politics as a member of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, Wallace served in the Army as an Officer in the Scots Guards. He was first elected to the Commons in 2005, and previously served as a minister in the Northern Ireland department and in the Home Office.

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Defence Secretary meets NATO Allies

In Slovenia, the Defence Secretary met with Defence Minister Matej Tonin. Like Croatia, the UK and Slovenia are marking 30 years of diplomatic relations…reports Asian Lite News

Ben Wallace met with defence counterparts in Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia to strengthen the Allied response to tensions on Ukraine’s border with Russia

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has met with NATO Allies and defence counterparts in Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia to strengthen the Allied response to the unfolding crisis on Ukraine’s border with Russia and the wider implications for European security.

His meetings follow on from a series of diplomatic talks last week in The Hague, Brussels and Germany where concerns over the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine were raised.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said, “In Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia this week I have met with my defence counterparts and NATO Allies to discuss ways to strengthen European security and reaffirm our resolve to support the sovereignty of Ukraine. We now need to see continued dialogue and de-escalation and an end to the build-up of Russian forces on the border of Ukraine. An invasion will be met with severe consequences.”

In Budapest on Monday, the Defence Secretary laid a wreath at the Memorial Stone of Heroes in Heroes Square before his meeting with Hungarian Defence Minister Dr Tibor Benkő.

The Defence Secretary held meetings with his counterpart Defence Minister Mario Banožić in Zagreb, Croatia, on Tuesday where he signed a new Strategic Partnership Commitment (SPC).

The SPC builds on the Memorandum of Understanding agreed five years ago, and comes as the UK and Croatia celebrate 39 years of diplomatic relations. The Defence Secretary also met Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković in Zagreb for talks about our nations’ shared approach as NATO Allies to stand up for the sovereignty of Ukraine.

In Slovenia, the Defence Secretary met with Defence Minister Matej Tonin. Like Croatia, the UK and Slovenia are marking 30 years of diplomatic relations.

The Prime Minster yesterday (Tuesday) travelled to Ukraine for talks with President Zelenskyy as the UK announced £88 million of new funding to help Ukraine clamp down on corruption and reduce the nation’s reliance on Russian energy supplies.

Britain is considering reinforcing NATO’s defences through new and bolstered deployments which underpin the UK’s support to European allies.

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British forces return to Afghanistan on the cards: Defence Secretary

“Our target is…about 1,200 to 1,500 exit a day in the capacity of our aeroplanes, and we’ll keep that flow,” he said…reports Asian Lite News.

British Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace said on Monday that British forces will not be returning to Afghanistan after the Taliban seized the Afghan capital city of Kabul.

Responding to a question by Sky News if Britain and NATO forces would return to Afghanistan, Wallace said, “That’s not on the cards that we’re going to go back.”

Wallace said Britain was doing everything it could to evacuate British nationals and Afghans with links to Britain.

“Our target is…about 1,200 to 1,500 exit a day in the capacity of our aeroplanes, and we’ll keep that flow,” he said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday that the US decision to pull out of Afghanistan has “accelerated things.”

The British parliament will be recalled on Wednesday from their summer recess to debate the British government’s response to the rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan.

The British Defense Secretary on Friday said the US decision to pull its military forces out of Afghanistan was a “mistake,” which has handed the Taliban “momentum” in the country.

“Of course I am worried, it is why I said I felt this was not the right time or decision to make because, of course, Al-Qaida will probably come back, certainly would like that type of breeding ground,” he told Sky News.

The Taliban said on Sunday that the war in Afghanistan has ended and they will soon declare the establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, reported Xinhua. (ANI)

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Austin meets Modi in New Delhi

The visit is seen as a strong commitment of Biden administration to its strong allies in the Indo-Pacific, reports Asian Lite News

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has met with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and stressed the commitment to the strategic partnership between the two countries amid rising tensions in the region and around the world with China.

Modi tweeted after their meeting on Friday, “Pleasure to meet U.S. @SecDef Lloyd Austin today. Conveyed my best wishes to @POTUS @JoeBiden. India and US are committed to our strategic partnership that is a force for global good.”

Austin also met with National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, according to the US embassy.

Soon after his arrival, Austin tweeted that his discussions in India would centre on cooperating to face “most pressing challenges” in the Indo-Pacific region where China’s aggressive actions, from the Himalayas to the South China Sea are on the rise.

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He is scheduled to meet Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and the delegations from the two countries are to hold discussions during his visit.

The first visit by a member of US President Joe Biden’s Cabinet to India came as leaders of the US and China clashed at a meeting in Alaska symbolising the growing aggressiveness of China.

It is particularly highlighted in the Indo-Pacific region and the US is responding by working closely with allies and partners.

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin meets India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in New Delhi on Friday (Photo: @SecDef/Twitter)

Austin tweeted, “Thrilled to be here in India. The breadth of cooperation between our two nations reflects the significance of our major defense partnership, as we work together to address the most pressing challenges facing the Indo-Pacific region.”

Outlining Austin’s agenda in India, Acting Assistant Defence Secretary for Indo-Pacific, David F. Helvey, said that he will “discuss operationalising the major defence partnership that we have with India, including through enhanced information sharing, regional security cooperation, defence trade, and cooperation in new domains.”

The Indian Defence Ministry said that Singh and Austin “are expected to discuss ways to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation and exchange views on regional security challenges and common interests in maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.”

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It added, “Discussions regarding defence cooperation would also focus on how both countries could consolidate military-to-military cooperation and defence trade and industry cooperation.”

The US designated India as a major defence partner by the US in 2016 allowing it access to some defence hi-tech that would normally be available only to allies.

The visit reflects President Joe Biden’s focus on the Indo-Pacific region to meet the Chinese challenge.

Last week Biden held a virtual summit with other leaders of the Quad nations, Prime Ministers Narendra Modi of India, Scott Morrison of Australia and Yoshihide Suga of Japan, at which they discussed security issues in the face of Chinese aggressive actions.

While on his way to India, Austin spoke to Australia’s Foreign Minister Maria Payne, who also holds the defence portfolio.

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Helvey said that Austin spoke to her about the “Quadrilateral process” of the four nations.

Before coming to India, Austin had visited two US treaty allies, Japan and Korea, on the frontlines of Chinese aggressiveness at sea in the region, and the military headquarters of the Indo-Pacific headquarters in Hawaii.

He and Secretary of State Antony Blinken held 2+2 ministerial meetings with their counterparts in Seoul and Tokyo.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin with President of South Korea Moon Jae-in (Photo: @SecBlinken)

The meeting of Blinken and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan with senior Chinese officials, State Councilor Wang Yi and Communist Party Foreign Affairs Director Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi, opened yesterday in Anchorage, Alaska, with open hostility.

Blinken said: “We will always stand up for our principles for our people, and for our friends.”

Yi retorted that the US was trying to “obstruct normal trade exchanges, and incite some countries to attack China” — a veiled reference to India, which hs defended itself against a by Beijing’s army along the Line of Actual Control.

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