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British government 'snubs' request for help to get humanitarian aid to Gaza

A convoy of "Miles of Smiles 3" carrying medical aid to Gaza crosses the Rafah crossing into the southern Gaza Strip from Egypt on June 19, 2011. [SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images]
A convoy of "Miles of Smiles 3" carrying medical aid to Gaza crosses the Rafah crossing into the southern Gaza Strip from Egypt on June 19, 2011. [SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images]

The British government has snubbed humanitarian aid donated by communities in the UK and left it in limbo en route to the besieged Gaza Strip, Peter Oborne has reported for Middle East Eye. The aid is worth "millions of pounds", which was raised during Ramadan, said the veteran journalist.

The request for diplomatic assistance was made last month on behalf of Miles of Smiles to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) through the British consular service in Cairo. The aid is needed urgently following the Israeli military offensive against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in May.

Although the Egyptian authorities gave permission for some of the aid to cross into Gaza via Rafah on 19 July, such clearance is still awaited for other vital equipment such as ambulances and wheelchairs. In response to the request for consular assistance, the FCDO sent a stock letter pointing out that, "Entry to the occupied Palestinian territories, including by sea to Gaza, is controlled by the Israeli authorities… The FCDO is not able to support individuals applying for entry or exit permits for Gaza."  The Foreign Office added that, "Short-notice requests for humanitarian access and those made in Egypt are unlikely to be considered."

The chief coordinator of Miles of Smiles, Dr Essam Mustafa, described the response as "hugely disappointing" given Britain's "rich history" of providing aid to the Palestinians. "What message does this send to British Muslim citizens who donated upwards of £40 million to help beleaguered Palestinians?" he asked.

Mustafa pointed out that aid from Malaysia entered Gaza via Egypt in June. "The delegation is believed to have done so with the backing of the Malaysian government."

According to Oborne, around £100m ($137m) is given by British Muslims to charitable causes during Ramadan every year. "This year,  it's estimated that approximately 30 per cent of all donations were designated for Gaza."

Opposition Labour MP Andy Slaughter warned that this latest snub appeared to fall into what Oborne called "a pattern of systematic neglect" of Muslim causes.

"The UK government took no effective action to restrain Israeli forces from the recent brutal attack on Gaza," Slaughter told MEE. "Now they are compounding this callousness by ignoring the efforts of Britain's Muslim communities to send vital aid to those who have suffered. Not only has the [Boris] Johnson government cut development aid, it appears to be blocking those who wish to step in and help."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to condemn Israel's actions during the May offensive. Oborne pointed out that Middle East minister James Cleverly told MPs that the actions of the Israeli government were "proportionate".  More than 250 Palestinians were killed during the Israeli offensive, including 67 children. Thousands of homes were totally or partially destroyed.

A spokesperson for the FCDO told MEE: "The UK remains highly concerned about the ongoing humanitarian situation in Gaza, further exacerbated by the recent conflict.  The UK is providing life-saving aid to Palestinian refugees in Gaza and across the region. We recently provided further funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency's emergency appeal to help provide basic services, such as healthcare and clean water."

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