Humza Yousaf's in-laws leave Gaza after weeks of being trapped

Elizabeth and Maged El-Nakla became stranded after Israel sealed the border following attack by Hamas, as others also start crossing into Egypt

Humza Yousaf's parents-in-law, Elizabeth and Maged El-Nakla, left Gaza through the Rafah border crossing on Friday. PA
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Scotland's First Minister Humza Yousaf's in-laws have left Gaza, after being trapped there for almost a month following Hamas's attack on Israel and its subsequent blockade of the strip.

Elizabeth and Maged El-Nakla, who were on a visit from their home in Scotland to see family, became stuck in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza after Israel sealed the border, preventing anyone from leaving the Palestinian enclave.

Their names were among a list of 92 British citizens seen by The National who are permitted to pass through the crossing into Egypt on Friday. The National, meanwhile, has spoken to families trying to make their way out of Gaza.

Mr Yousaf confirmed the couple had left in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

A statement from Mr Yousaf and his wife on Friday said: “We are very pleased to confirm that Nadia's parents were able to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing this morning.

“We are very grateful to all of those who have assisted our parents over the last few weeks, including the FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) crisis team.

“These last four weeks have been a living nightmare for our family, we are so thankful for all of the messages of comfort and prayers that we have received from across the world, and indeed from across the political spectrum in Scotland and the UK.”

The couple said they will continue to call for an immediate ceasefire and the opening of a humanitarian corridor to assist those who have not been able to leave the war-torn territory.

They added: “Although we feel a sense of deep personal relief, we are heartbroken at the continued suffering of the people of Gaza. We will continue to raise our voices to stop the killing and suffering of the innocent people of Gaza.

“We reiterate our calls for all sides to agree to an immediate ceasefire, the opening of a humanitarian corridor so that significant amounts of aid, including fuel, can flow through to a population that have suffered collective punishment for far too long, and for all hostages to be released.

“Families in Gaza and Israel are suffering the loss of entirely innocent men, women and children. We pray for them all, and pray that the international community at last focuses on achieving a lasting peace in the region: one that recognises that the rights and lives of Palestinians and Israelis are equal.”

Other members of Ms El-Nakla's family – who are Palestinian citizens – remain in Gaza, including her brother who has been working as a doctor amid the conflict.

Earlier on Friday, a spokesman for the Scottish government confirmed to The National that the couple were at the Rafah border, waiting to cross.

The list,published overnight by the Palestinian Border Authority, said those named must be “present at 7am in the outdoor halls of the crossing to facilitate their travel”.

Elizabeth El-Nakla, a retired nurse, shared two videos appealing for help during the couple's time in Gaza. In one she said they had no electricity, no water and very little food.

Mr Yousaf had spoken of his fears for his in-laws, last month saying he did “genuinely did not know” whether he would see them again.

Families eager to be reunited with loved ones

Dr Nasser Al Shanti, a senior lecturer at Metropolitan University in Manchester, is awaiting news of his daughter and her family's evacuation.

The last time he heard from them they were waiting for the Rafah crossing to open so they could leave Gaza and start their journey to the UK.

Dr Al Shanti has six siblings living in Gaza.

His daughter, Yosra, studied, met and married her husband, Ibrahim Taha there. She has lived in Gaza for the past seven years.

Ibrahim, Yosra, and their three-year-old child, Ghina, are at Rafah crossing.

Dr Al Shanti has reached out to the UK Foreign Office seeking assistance for his family’s safe passage.

During the first critical days of the crisis, the Foreign Office's response was notably absent, Dr Al Shanti told The National.

However, as the situation has intensified, they have established a dedicated crisis team, he added.

On Thursday, Dr Al-Shanti received confirmation that his family was on the evacuation list and would be safely escorted out if conditions permitted.

A British embassy convoy is positioned on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, Dr Al Shanti was told, as they prepare to transport evacuees.

Emad Abuaassi, a British-Palestinian, told The National he and his family of five had passed through the Rafah crossing and were on a bus to Cairo.

He described the past few days as extremely stressful and taxing.

Ibrahim Asalya told The National he and his family were stranded in Jabalia, in the northern part of Gaza. They have registered their names with the FCO through the website as directed.

"Our names have been on the list," he said, "and we were instructed to proceed to the crossing."

However, the family's exit was thwarted when they encountered Israeli tanks barricading the route to central Gaza, making their departure from the region impossible.

"The Israeli tanks have blocked the roads," he said. They were told that passage was permitted only for vehicles associated with UNRWA, the Red Crescent and Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

Mr Asalya said about 20 to 25 other British citizens were trapped facing the same predicament.

He said news had spread that another family's attempt to reach the crossing ended in tragedy as they were shot by Israeli tanks.

The British Foreign Office has pledged to provide assistance but warned it cannot guarantee safety.

Mr Asalya added: "Every two or three days, they contact us depending on the information they receive from the Israeli or Egyptian side."

His disappointment with the British response was palpable, especially after being directed to a dedicated British Red Cross phone number for "support". In dire need of food, water and medication, Mr Asalya contacted the aid group, only to be met with the disheartening reality that only "emotional support" was available.

Updated: November 03, 2023, 3:07 PM