Fewer guests at Downing Street Eid event amid Gaza boycott

Prominent figures avoided celebration over UK's support for Israel

Members of the Muslim community queue to have their pictures taken in front of 10 Downing Street in London, as they arrive for an Eid reception on April 15. PA
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Fewer people than usual attended Downing Street's annual Eid Al Fitr reception on Monday amid reports of a boycott in protest against the UK government's support of Israel.

Prominent politicians and business and charity leaders stayed away from the event, with only about half the normal number of people attending the gathering at Number 10, the BBC reported.

According to reports, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who was Britain's first female Muslim cabinet minister and was chairwoman of the Conservative Party under David Cameron, was among those who did not attend.

The Conservative peer has been outspoken in her criticism over the plight of people in Gaza, where the war is in its seventh month.

Monday's event had been due to be hosted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, but he was unable to attend as it clashed with his statement in the Commons on the situation in the Middle East.

A Downing Street representative had previously said Mr Sunak was looking forward to “welcoming members of the Muslim community to the Eid reception”.

But they said the government shared “the deep concern that many British Muslims feel over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza”.

“That's why we have long called for an immediate humanitarian pause with progress towards a sustainable ceasefire and consistently urged Israel and all parties to the conflict to abide by international humanitarian law,” the representative said.

Mr Sunak repeated that position to the Commons on Monday as he condemned Saturday night's attack by Iran on Israel.

“I want to be clear, nothing that has happened over the last 48 hours affects our position on Gaza,” he told MPs.

“The appalling toll on civilians continues to grow, the hunger, the desperation, the loss of life on an awful scale, the whole country wants to see an end to the bloodshed and to see more humanitarian support going in.”

Earlier on Monday, UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron urged Muslim leaders to abandon plans to boycott the reception and to “put aside political differences”.

On Monday, he said Eid was a time to “bring people together” and urged those who had received an invitation to attend the event.

“I had an Eid celebration at the Foreign Office a few days ago and I think ambassadors from every Arab country turned up to that celebration, as did the ambassador from Israel,” Lord Cameron told Times Radio.

“So I think all these religious festivals are a time to put aside political differences and think of the things that bring us together.

“One of the things that brings us together in Britain is that we’re a country with an established church, but also a country that respects other faiths and respects other celebrations, and I think that’s the right thing to do.

“So I’d urge people who get that nice invitation to go to No 10 Downing Street, whether it’s Diwali, whether it’s Eid, whether it’s Easter.

“They’re always very good parties and very well done, and I’d encourage people to go.”

UK's Cameron urges Israel not to retaliate against Iran – video

UK's Cameron urges Israel not to retaliate against Iran

UK's Cameron urges Israel not to retaliate against Iran

Israel's war in Gaza, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack that killed 1,200 people, has caused widespread devastation and killed more than 33,800 Palestinians.

The British government has faced pressure to halt arms sales to Israel.

On Saturday, the UK supported Israel in helping to intercept more than 300 drones and ballistic and cruise missiles launched towards its territory by Iran.

In a statement on Sunday, the British government said it has moved “several additional” fighter jets and refuelling tankers to the region after Iran’s attack.

Updated: April 16, 2024, 7:51 AM