Tony Benn calls on British forces in Cyprus to escort Gaza aid missions

FORMER British Cabinet Minister and veteran Labour peace activist Tony Benn has told the Cyprus Mail that British forces based on the island should be helping in the effort to ferry in humanitarian aid to the beleaguered Gaza Strip.

His comments came a day after 3,500 people gathered in London to hear the peace campaigner address a rally in Trafalgar Square.

“It’s a moral question really,” he told the Cyprus Mail. “The Israelis have killed 1,200 people in Gaza and you have to ask yourself, how can we help?”

Benn pointed to the military infrastructure already in place in Cyprus and suggested that British forces should accompany ships carrying food and medicine, such as those recently failed Gaza boat missions, which were blocked by the Israeli navy.

“Britain is uniquely qualified to help; it seems like a very practical thing to do and at this point people need positive suggestions. We are in a position to do something.”

Asked if the British military getting involved in the conflict would spark tensions between the UK and Israel, Benn doubted Israel would want to extend the confrontation.

“The Israelis would be unwise to extend their conflict to include Britain, I really don’t think they would stop a British naval vessel,” he added.

“We should also use the RAF to fly into Gaza doctors, medical supplies, and also journalists, whom Israel keeps out.”

The British military operates an air force base in the western town of Akrotiri; however a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence told the Mail that there is no permanent Royal Navy presence on the island.

Benn has monitored the recent attempts to send humanitarian aid to Gaza and is in constant contact with Lauren Booth, who was on the first Cyprus-Gaza boat mission last year.

“When I hear the news of women and children being killed and even UN schools being bombed, I can’t believe my ears. We are in a position actually to do something.”

Free Gaza Movement activists announced at the weekend that they might attempt once more to deliver humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, after their past two attempts to do so have failed because of Israeli naval blockades.

Benn, who was a cabinet minister under Harold Wilson, has remained one of Britain’s highest profile politicians for two generations, and said he was keeping a close eye on the mercy missions from Cyprus.

Mary Hughes Thompson from the Free Gaza Movement told the Cyprus Mail last night that Benn’s suggestion was, “a great idea.”

The latest attempt to ferry doctors and journalists, as well as a four-member crew, was forced to return to Cyprus after it was harassed by three Israeli ships, 92 nautical miles off Larnaca coast.

And on December 30 and while in international waters the tiny Dignity vessel on course from Larnaca to Gaza was deliberately rammed by an Israeli Navy boat three times, but managed to limp into a Lebanese port with serious damage.

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