Supporters of humanitarian pauses in the Israel-Hamas conflict include Rishi Sunak.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has supported “specific pauses” in the Israel-Hamas war, echoing international calls to allow more aid into Gaza.

Mr Sunak told MPs a “safer environment” was needed in the territory to deliver aid and get British nationals out.

But the prime minister did not back a ceasefire as that would only benefit Hamas, his spokesperson said.

His comments follow appeals for a humanitarian pause by the United Nations, the US and Canada.

The prime minister said the UK had discussed the idea with allies at the UN, as he announced that an RAF plane was flying to Egypt with 21 tonnes of humanitarian supplies.

International calls for increased humanitarian access to Gaza have been growing louder, with UN aid agencies warning they were “on their knees”.

Israel launched its bombing campaign against Hamas – which Israel, the UK, US and other powers class as a terrorist organisation – in response to an unprecedented cross-border attack on 7 October.

At least 1,400 people were killed and 222 others were taken hostage in the Hamas attack.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health minister says nearly 5,800 people have been killed in the territory since then.

Dozens of MPs have urged the UK government to call for a ceasefire, as five UK nationals remain missing, with some believed to be held hostage by Hamas in Gaza.

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mhairi Black, the SNP’s deputy leader in the House of Commons, asked Mr Sunak if he would “join us in calls for a humanitarian ceasefire”.

Mr Sunak said: “The first and most important principle is that Israel has the right to defend itself under international law.

“Our support for that position is absolute and unchanged.

“From the start we’ve also said that we do want British nationals to be able to leave Gaza, and we want for hostages to be released and for humanitarian aid to get in.

“We recognise for all of that to happen there has to be a safer environment which of course necessitates specific pauses as distinct from a ceasefire.”

Ms Black argued that joining calls for a ceasefire was the “best and maybe the only way to stop this conflict escalating beyond all control”.

But Mr Sunak said Israel has the “right to protect itself” after suffering a “shockingly brutal terrorist attack” at the hands of Hamas.

An RAF C-17 aircraft was en route to Egypt from Brize Norton to deliver the British aid to Palestinian civilians.

Mr Sunak said: “Our team are on the ground ready to receive, we will continue to do everything we can do increase the flow of aid – including fuel – into Gaza.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has resisted calls from some of his own MPs to support a full ceasefire.

But his spokesman said he would support humanitarian pauses to protect civilians in Gaza.

“We have said throughout that we would support any initiative to get more aid in and help get hostages out,” Sir Keir’s spokesman said.