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UK presses for Rafah crossing to reopen to allow trapped Britons out of Gaza

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The Foreign Office is pressing for a key border point in Gaza to be reopened to allow British nationals to leave the bombarded territory.

Almost 90 people with a British passport or UK travel documents had formally requested to pass through the Rafah crossing on Saturday into Egypt, according to a list produced by the authorities running the border post.

But UK nationals found themselves turned away, with the crossing shut to foreign nationals over a reported row over evacuating injured patients.

The Rafah crossing is the only route out of the territory for foreign nationals and the sole entry point for incoming aid.

It is vital that the safe passage of people, including all foreign nationals, and humanitarian aid can continue

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Zaynab Wandawi, 29, from Salford in Greater Manchester, and a group of 12 family members — 10 of whom are British nationals — were told they were on the list on Saturday, according to her mother, Lalah Ali-Faten.

But the English language teacher was turned away from the border due to disagreement between the Palestinian and Israeli authorities in control of the crossing, Ms Ali-Faten said.

Her daughter is trying to leave the enclave having travelled to Gaza at the beginning of October with her husband, who is British Palestinian, and his relatives for a family member’s wedding before the Israel-Hamas war erupted.

A spokesman for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said it was “disappointed” that the vital border post had been “temporarily closed”.

“This continues to be a complex and challenging situation and we are using all diplomatic channels to press for its reopening in co-ordination with our international partners,” the spokesman said.

“We remain in contact with British nationals in the region to provide them with the latest information.

“It is vital that the safe passage of people, including all foreign nationals, and humanitarian aid can continue.”

At least 100 Britons, including the in-laws of Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf, have left the besieged 25-mile strip using the Rafah crossing since it opened to foreign nationals last week.

But more are thought to want to exit, with around 200 in Gaza so far registering with the authorities.

Along with their dependents, the total number the UK is trying to secure passage for is thought to be in the low hundreds.

Fighting in the Middle East reignited after Hamas, a militant Palestinian group that rules the Gaza Strip, carried out an unprecedented attack on Israel, killing 1,400 people and taking about 240 hostages.

Tel Aviv’s retaliation, which has included a ground incursion into the territory, has killed more than 9,000 people, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

The growing death toll since Hamas’s deadly raids on October 7 has sparked a host of protests in the UK, with thousands of pro-Palestinian supporters taking to the streets of London, Glasgow and Belfast on Saturday to demand a ceasefire.

The British Transport Police confirmed it was making inquiries into anti-Israel chanting on the tube network by demonstrators in the capital, with some protesters calling for revolution against Tel Aviv.

In one video highlighted to the Metropolitan Police on X, formerly known as Twitter, what appear to be pro-Palestinian supporters can be heard chanting: “Smash the Zionist settler state.”

A 24-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of a racially aggravated offence after footage was posted on social media which appeared to show a man praising Hamas, the Met said.

Hamas is proscribed as a terror organisation in the UK and support for it is banned.

The Met said a total of 29 people were arrested in London, including for inciting racial hatred, other racially motivated crimes, violence and assaulting a police officer.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman have expressed concern about the prospect of further pro-Palestine protests next Saturday, November 11, during Armistice Day.

Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has promised to take a “robust approach” and to use “all the powers available” to ensure commemorative events are “not undermined”.

But demonstration organisers in London have pledged to avoid the Whitehall area where the Cenotaph war memorial – the focus of national remembrance events – is located.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is due to meet with the Met on Monday to discuss the operation and the potential route for next weekend’s demonstrations.

Mrs Braverman told Sky News that Armistice Day should be treated with the “solemnity with which it deserves” as she raised concerns about some elements of the pro-Palestinian demonstrations turning into “hate marches”.

“If anyone were to vandalise the Cenotaph, they must be put into a jail cell faster than their feet can touch the ground,” she told the broadcaster during a visit to a Greek island on Saturday.

Elsewhere, Cabinet ministers have reportedly warned health bodies, charities and universities about a need to crack down on hate speech arising out of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The Sunday Telegraph said, as part of the move, that Health Secretary Steve Barclay had written to the General Medical Council and Nursing and Midwifery Council warning that “hate speech and support for extremism or terrorism are not compatible” with being a UK doctor or nurse.

The Department for Health and Social Care said it would not be commenting.