Teams of Border Force officials have been deployed to Egypt in readiness to help at least 200 Britons trapped in Gaza, prime minister Rishi Sunak has revealed.
Speaking yesterday, the prime minister said: “We've pre-positioned Border Force teams to Egypt. So that if there is a possibility for our nationals to cross the Rafah crossing, we're ready to get them in and bring them back.”
The Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza is likely to be the main exit route for those trapped in Gaza but remains closed other than for deliveries of aid.
Thousands have died in Israeli attacks on Gaza in retaliation for Hamas raids into Israel earlier this month in which more than 1,400 people were killed and at least 200 hostages taken – including several Britons.
And this week Israeli tanks launched an attack in Gaza, ahead of a widely-expected ground invasion, in an operation to “prepare the battlefield” according to Israel Defence Forces.
Sunak is calling for “specific pauses” in the fighting to create a “safer environment” to enable Britons to leave Gaza. He warned: “There’s a lot of complexity on the ground and around the security situation there, so it’s not something we can do immediately.” The prime minister stressed: “When the moment arises we'll be ready to take it quickly. We will do everything we can to get our nationals out.”
Today education secretary Gillian Keegan said the government had been in “intense discussions” with partners in the region and wanted Border Force officials to be “prepared and ready” on the ground “if and when we can get the hostages out”.
She added: “But right now we still need to agree that and it still needs to be facilitated.”
Keegan admitted: “It's operationally very difficult and that's why we've sent a plane-load of aid, it's why we've sent Border Force, it's why we've got people there, our international development secretary has been working with a lot of people in the region to make sure that we're prepared to be able to get this aid to the right place.”
In terms of being able to do this, and help bring Britons back to the UK, she said: “We're reliant on there being a pause and the pause being observed.”