Page last updated at 13:21 GMT, Sunday, 15 February 2009

British MPs granted Gaza access

Palestinians receive UN food aid
The MPs want to visit UN aid facilities in Gaza

A cross-party delegation of British MPs has been allowed into Gaza to assess the effects of the recent Israeli military offensive.

Members of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group were granted entry by the Israeli military.

They hope to spend the afternoon being taken around sites damaged during Israeli military action.

Israel said its 22-day operation was launched in response to militants firing rockets at its towns from Gaza.

About 1,300 Palestinians are understood to have died in the conflict, while 13 Israelis died.

The MPs say they want to speak directly to people affected and hope to visit international aid operations, including UN-run sites.

They plan to stay there until at least Tuesday.

FROM THE BBC WORLD SERVICE

As the UK delegation arrived in the region, hopes were dashed that a formal truce could soon be announced between Israel and Hamas, after both sides announced separate ceasefires on 18 January.

The Israeli government announced that a captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, would have to be released before such a deal was struck, not as part of a subsequent prisoner swap.

The parliamentary group's chairman Richard Burden, the Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield, is leading the six-strong team.

'Grim' situation

The MPs want to take witness accounts of what happened during the incursion as well as visiting UK-funded reconstruction projects.

The danger is that people will forget as it goes off of our TV screens. But the families are still living in very difficult circumstances
Jasmine Whitbread
Save the Children

Mr Burden was one of the loudest voices calling for a ceasefire during the conflict.

He later tabled a Commons motion - signed by more than 170 MPs - criticising the BBC and Sky News for refusing to broadcast an appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee for funds to provide aid in Gaza.

The MPs' visit has been welcomed by the charity Save the Children.

Chief executive Jasmine Whitbread told the BBC the humanitarian situation was "grim".

"We think that up to 100,000 people have been displaced. Over 90% of the population is dependent on food aid, and it'll be shocking for them I'm sure," she said.

"The danger is that people will forget as it goes off of our TV screens. But the families are still living in very difficult circumstances. So I think it helps to keep the attention on this."

This weekend, a convoy of more than 100 vehicles left the UK for Gaza, where aid worth 1m, including ambulances and a fire engine, will be delivered.

It was organised by the Viva Palestina umbrella group and supported by Muslim organisations, as well as the Stop the War Coalition.

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