The British government is being accused of hindering attempts by human rights lawyers to access to the war-ravaged Gaza Strip to document Israel’s war crimes by refusing to provide the needed entry letters.
"All the letter states is that the Foreign Office has advised you not to enter Gaza and you have not accepted its advice," lawyer Stephen Kamlish QC, who was recently refused a letter to enter Gaza, told The Guardian on Tuesday, April 21.
"But you have to have one to get across the border."
Egyptian authorities insist that foreigners seeking to enter Gaza through its Rafah border crossing must submit a letter from their government acknowledging and authorizing their visits.
Kamlish is one of several British lawyers the government refused to issue them such letters.
One lawyer, Kate Maynard, was even advised by the Foreign Office that her efforts should rather be focused on "humanitarian" work.
"I recommend that Ms Maynard get in touch with the UN…to enquire how she might best be able to assist the international humanitarian effort," Bill Rammell, a Foreign Office minister, told MP Diane Abbott who wrote to the Foreign Office on her behalf.
Some lawyers trying to build a war crimes case against Israel over its recent three-week Gaza onslaught have had to turn back after waiting for days at Rafah crossing without the necessary letters.
Few, including Kamlish, were able to cross into Gaza with foreign officials, French in his case.
Others had to rely on sources in Gaza or Israel to provide sponsorship letters.
More than 1,300 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed and 5,450 wounded in 22 days of attacks Israel unleashed on December 27.
The offensive wrecked havoc on the infrastructure of the densely-populated, besieged coastal enclave, leaving tens of thousands of homes and other buildings in ruins.
British lawyers are astonished by their government’s stance.
"No other European country has adopted this stance," Daniel Machover, senior lawyer at London firm Hickman & Rose, told The Guardian.
"That is what is so incredible about this."
Machover, who is working on cases of war crimes in Gaza, said the Foreign Office’s "consistent" refusal to aid war crimes probes seemed more of a deliberate act.
"This seems like a determined effort not to enable important witnesses to get into the Gaza Strip."
Rashad Yaqoob, a lawyer for the Human Rights Legal Aid Trust, believes London’s stance goes beyond issuing letters to rights investigators.
"We are just not getting any response from the Foreign Office since the events in Gaza," said Yaqoob, whose group is funding the work of rights lawyers in Gaza.
Yaqoob believes the government is acting on the defensive regarding Gaza.
In March, it emerged that Israeli combat and target drones which bombed Gaza for three weeks had been fitted with British-made engines.
Lawyers representing more than 30 Palestinian families accused Foreign Secretary David Miliband, along with the ministers of defense and business, of breaching the international law by failing to respond to Israel’s assault in Gaza.
"In my opinion the Foreign Office is now under pressure from the judicial review," Yaqoob contends.
"I don’t see them as being too comfortable in facilitating lawyers going across where we could be collecting evidence that could be used against them."
(IslamOnline.net and Newspapers)