Ministers press for opening of Rafah crossing to allow Britons to flee Gaza

Defence minister James Heappey warned of the ‘almost inevitable’ impact on civilians in Gaza of conflict with Israel.

Ministers have been pressing for Egypt to open the Rafah crossing to allow Britons to flee Gaza and to reduce the “almost inevitable” impact on civilians of the conflict with Israel.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Monday that the Israeli military operation must focus on Hamas as he raised concerns about a “regional escalation”.

Defence minister James Heappey warned that combat in Gaza as Israel is expected to launch an offensive by sea, air and land is likely to be “horrendous”.

British officials are working with the Egyptian authorities in an effort to facilitate British and dual nationals, as well as their spouses and children, to leave Gaza through the border.

Mr Heappey welcomed the prospect of opening the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt but said it is important to “sound a note of caution that the reports might be more optimistic than reality”.

Mr Sunak acknowledged it is an “anxious time for many families who will have loved ones who are impacted or missing”, with around 10 British hostages being held by Hamas.

Speaking to broadcasters on a visit to a Jewish secondary school in north London, the Prime Minister said: “We’re providing all the consular support through the Foreign Office that we can and also providing direct support to the Israelis.

“And the humanitarian situation is one which of course we’re concerned about, and that I’ve raised in all the calls and interactions I’ve had with other leaders from across the region.

“And in particular, making sure that we can try and get the Rafah crossing open, that will ease the humanitarian situation.”

Mr Heappey, the armed forces minister, issued a warning on the impact on civilians of combat in Gaza, which is home to more than two million Palestinians.

“I think you have to be clear that international law allows Israel to prosecute a mission that is legal, proportionate and necessary, and that, I’m afraid, does not necessarily mean that Israel has to be able to guarantee that there will be no civilian loss of life,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

“It is almost inevitable, given the complexity of the mission, that there will be (an) innocent civilian population that is very badly affected. I just don’t think there’s any point pretending otherwise.”

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