Scotland’s first minister criticises Israeli blockade of Gaza

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Scotland’s first minister has said Israel’s siege of Gaza has gone “too far”, describing its cutting off the supply of water and electricity to the enclave as collective punishment that “cannot be justified”.

“There is innocent men, women, children, babies, that have nothing to do with Hamas, who are paying an extraordinary price for those atrocious [Hamas] attacks,” Humza Yousaf said in a BBC interview on Friday.

Yousaf, whose parents-in-law are trapped in Gaza, also expressed his “absolute sympathy” for those killed in Israel and said the country had the right to defend itself.

The Scottish leader’s comments came hours after UK defence secretary Grant Shapps defended Israel’s warning that Palestinians should leave northern Gaza in advance of an anticipated ground offensive.

The UN said it was “impossible” to move more than 1mn people in that period without “devastating humanitarian consequences”.

Though the regional Scottish government has powers in domestic areas such as healthcare, UK foreign policy is the remit of the central government in London.

The UK government has maintained robust support for Israel after Hamas sent fighters across the border from Gaza and killed at least 1,200 civilians and soldiers.

Palestinian authorities say that about 1,800 people in Gaza have been killed by Israel in response.

Shapps said Israel had the “right to deal with Hamas”, but added: “We have made clear to Israel that it, of course, needs to act within international law and be proportionate.”

The UK government’s robust support for Israel was criticised by Sir Richard Dalton, a former UK ambassador to Iran and Libya.

“I find the British government’s knee jerk endorsement of everything that Israel does obscene and a departure from previous stances in which we have sought some fairness in these dreadful situations,” he told Times Radio.

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak spoke with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday night and urged Israel to “take all possible measures to protect ordinary Palestinians and facilitate humanitarian aid”, according to a Downing Street readout of the phone call.

The UK “stands side by side” with Israel in fighting terror, Sunak told Netanyahu, and agreed that Hamas, which he said had “enmeshed itself in the civilian population of Gaza”, could never again be allowed to “perpetrate atrocities” against the Israeli people.

Sunak also stressed the importance of opening the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza to allow humanitarian aid to enter the territory and British and other nationals to leave, a subject he discussed earlier on Thursday with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Israel-Hamas war

On Friday Sunak attended a meeting of the Joint Expeditionary Force, a 10-nation defence partnership led by the UK, on the Baltic island of Gotland.

In his address to fellow leaders, Sunak pledged his “full support” to Israel and said: “I think it’s important for us to say that we’re all outraged by the terrorist attacks that have happened in Israel . . . We will stand with Israel at this moment.”

Back in the UK, Shapps said it was “very likely” that Hamas had taken some British citizens hostage and were holding them in Gaza, although he told Sky News the UK government did not have exact data “for obvious reasons”.

The UK is set to deploy a Royal Navy task group to the eastern Mediterranean and has started conducting military surveillance flights in the region in a show of support for Israel.

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