The 200 British citizens trapped in Gaza could be classed a “hostages”, according to a government minister.
Robert Halfon was asked about reports that foreign nationals who were in the Hamas-controlled territory when the conflict with Israel broke out are not being allowed to leave.
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The minister for skills, apprenticeships and higher education told Sky News: “If people are being kept in a place against their will, are not allowed to travel out, then that is a form of hostage taking.
“It shows the nature of Hamas, it shows what Israel has to deal with and explains why the government has said that it supports Israel’s right to defend itself.”
Last night Joe Biden’s White House national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Egypt and Israel were prepared to allow foreign nationals to leave Gaza via the Rafah crossing.
But he said the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls the bombarded territory, had not agreed to terms that would grant foreigners an opportunity to depart for Egypt and reach it safely.
Hundreds of foreign nationals are thought to be trapped, including around 200 British citizens.
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Sky’s Kay Burley asks Education Minister Robert Halfon about the 200 British nationals thought to be being prevented from leaving Gaza. Last week, UK Border Force teams were sent to Egypt so they are prepared to help the British nationals escape from Gaza if and when the crossing is opened to foreign nationals.
But Mr Sullivan told CBS News: “The challenge right now is that the Egyptians are prepared to let Americans and other foreign nationals out of Gaza.
“The Israelis have no issue with that. But Hamas is preventing their departure and making a series of demands.”
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Those stuck in Gaza have dealt with communication blackouts, the threat of Israeli air strikes and a lack of food and water after Israel blockaded essential services in response to Hamas’s deadly attack on 7 October, which killed at least 1,400 people.
Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf said his in-laws, who are trapped in Gaza having travelled to visit family there ahead of Hamas’s assault, have run out of drinking water.
World leaders raised the plight of trapped foreigners in a series of phone calls over the weekend, as Israel ramped up its ground offensive.
Rishi Sunak and his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte discussed “efforts to support British and Dutch nationals in Gaza”, and the prime minister also spoke about efforts to “get foreign nationals out” with French President Emmanuel Macron, Downing Street said.
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It comes as diplomatic efforts continue to secure the release of the 220 people Hamas physically took hostage from inside Israel when it launched its attack.
Only four people have been set free so far, with a Hamas leader telling Sky News last week they will all be released only if the right conditions are met – including Israel reducing the intensity of bombing in Gaza.
Since then, fighting has intensified with Israel launching a ground operation.
Mr Sunak will hold an emergency COBRA meeting in the UK to discuss “domestic security” as the conflict escalates, while Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy is embarking on a three-day tour of the Middle East to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the release of hostages and regional de-escalation.