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Foreign Office accused of hindering human rights lawyers in Gaza Strip

guardianAfua  Hirsch, legal affairs correspondent, the Guardian, Tuesday 21 April 2009, reports

• War crimes investigators blocked from territory

• British officials decline to provide entry letters

British lawyers attempting to build a war crimes case against Israel have been blocked from entering the Gaza Strip because the Foreign Office has refused to support their work, the Guardian has learned.

A number of the lawyers, who have travelled to the region on fact-finding trips, could not get into the Palestinian territory because they cannot cross the border without letters from the British government authorising their visits.

One lawyer, whose MP, Diane Abbott, wrote to the Foreign Office on her behalf, was told her effort would be better spent contributing to 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 lawyer Kate Maynard, in a letter seen by the Guardian.

The letter confirms the government has “consistently refused to issue letter requesting facilitation to enter Gaza”.

“This seems like a determined effort not to enable important witnesses to get into the Gaza Strip,” said Daniel Machover, senior lawyer at London firm Hickman & Rose, who is working on cases of alleged war crimes in Gaza. “No other European country has adopted this stance. That is what is so incredible about this.”

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