Rishi Sunak and Humza Yousaf speak for first time about war in Gaza

24 October 2023, 18:12

Humza Yousaf gave an emotional speech in Holyrood about the situation in Gaza.
Humza Yousaf gave an emotional speech in Holyrood about the situation in Gaza. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

Rishi Sunak and Humza Yousaf have discussed the situation in Israel and Gaza for the first time since Scotland's First Minister revealed his parents-in-law were trapped as a result of the war.

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In an emotional statement to the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister revealed he had spoken with the Prime Minister today and had urged him to use his influence on the Israeli and Egyptians governments to open the Rafah border crossing and allow UK nationals trapped in Gaza to leave.

Previously Mr Yousaf had spoken with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly about the need for a ceasefire and humanitarian routes into Gaza.

Mr Yousaf's parents-in-law travelled to the Middle East from Scotland to visit family, including his wife Nadia's grandmother, but have been trapped there since the outbreak of hostilities after the Hamas terrorist attack in Israel on October 7.

Addressing MSPs in Holyrood, he said he had also spoken to his mother-in-law Elizabeth El-Nakla who had told him she "feels helpless and has lost hope. She told me she feels as if the UK Government has forgotten about her."

He added: "Please don’t interpret my point as a political one, it is not.

"She is a UK citizen, yet the only communication she receives from the Foreign Office is text messages telling her what she already knows – that the Rafah Crossing is closed.

"What she needs, is the UK Government, the PM and Foreign Secretary, to spend every minute of every day demanding from their allies in Egypt and Israel that the Rafah Crossing opens and opens now, to allow those UK citizens trapped in Gaza safe passage and for them to return home to their families.

"I made this very point to the Prime Minister this afternoon when we spoke on the phone. And reiterated the Scottish Government’s calls for a ceasefire, for more aid, including fuel, to be allowed in to Gaza and of course that the PM had our support in doing everything he can to bring British hostages back home."

Near tears he said: "And in the meantime, I have a wife who really wants to hug her mum and dad, and I have two girls, who really miss their granny and grandad. They just want to know when they’ll come home, and it is a question I simply do not know the answer to.

"Every night Nadia and I go to bed barely sleeping, as we count down the hours until the morning, waiting anxiously for a message from my mother-in-law to tell us they have survived the night.

"Throughout the day, the 100 people in the family home must ration their food. The adults barely eat, my mother-in-law only ate cashew nuts yesterday, they ration so the children in the house don't end up malnourished, but time is running out."

Reiterating his condemnation of Hamas's "barbaric attacks" he said the more the world learns about what took place on October 7 "the Jewish sabbath and a Jewish holy day – the more we are sickened by their brutality.

"Let me say as someone who is proudly Muslim, that Islam tells us “That if you kill one innocent person, it is as if you have killed the whole of humanity.” There can be no religious or moral defence of the killing of innocent civilians."

He said Israel had a right to protect itself from terror but that it "must be done within international law" and called for the "hostages taken by Hamas to be released immediately."

He added: "Let this chamber unite in our common humanity, in accepting that there is no hierarchy of grief. That when a mother loses a child then we all feel that pain, that hurt, that sorrow, whether that mother is Israeli or Palestinian."

He said he had "felt that pain" when he met Irene Cowan, the mother of Glasgow man Bernard Cowan who was killed by Hamas in its attack.

"She is an incredible woman who despite her own heartache told me that she was praying for my in-laws and for all the innocent men, women and children trapped in Gaza. Too many mothers and fathers have lost their children, too many children have become orphaned, and that is why an immediate ceasefire must be agreed to."

Downing Street confirmed that the two men had discussed the support needed for British nationals in Gaza, the progress made in getting aid in, and that Rishi Sunak had asked after Mr Yousaf's family.

In Holyrood, Humza Yousaf said aid arriving in Gaza needed to be "significantly increased", and should include fuel to ensure hospitals can operate.

"The sick, the injured, premature babies, they will die," he said. "If that happens there will be a stain on all of our collective consciences and it is one we should not be forgiven for."

A joint statement from the First Minister and leaders in the Jewish and Muslim communities in Scotland was also released, with signatories pledging to be "steadfast against all forms of hate crime, bigotry and xenophobia and we are proud of the strong inter-faith tradition in Scotland".

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said his party "stands with Israel", but also with civilians in Gaza, saying: "The Palestinian people are not Hamas. They are civilians, they are innocent, they are simply caught in a terrible situation. And they are also suffering from the tyranny, exploitation and oppression of Hamas terrorists."

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: "There is never any justification for targeting civilians or the loss of innocent life."

He added: "While Israel has a right to defend itself, it must act in accordance with international law. Hamas is not Palestine - there is no justification for the collective punishment of the people of Gaza."

He also said he still believes "in the cause of peace" and a two-state solution which "delivers peace, freedom and security" to both Israel and Palestine, and "the end to occupation and illegal siege."

Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton praised the "quiet dignity" with which the First Minister has carried himself since the Hamas attack, saying that both those in Gaza and Israel "have the right to live free from fear".