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Swedes stranded in Gaza

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10:15 CET+01:00
Around twenty Swedes stranded in Gaza have been in contact with the Swedish consulate in Jerusalem to seek help leaving the war-torn area.

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt is among those trying to broker an end to the conflict which entered its tenth day of fighting on Monday.

André Mkandawire at the Swedish foreign ministry confirmed to news agency TT that requests from Swedes wanting to leave Gaza have been forwarded to the government of the Czech Republic, which holds the rotating EU presidency and has responsibility for maintaining contact with Israeli authorities.

Mkandawire confirmed that the Czechs are working hard to enable the Swedes and other EU citizens to leave the war-torn Palestinian area. But as Israeli troops pushed deeper into Gaza on Sunday night this process was being complicated.

"There are bombs everywhere, we can't sleep at night. My sisters are crying. Please, please, help us to get out of here," said the 13-year-old son of Swedish doctor Yossuf Abo Mery to Aftonbladet. Mery travelled to Gaza with his 37-year-old pregnant wife Kefah and their four children to visit a sick relative. They are now stuck in Deir-al-Balah, 15 kilometres south of Gaza City.

Nils Eliason, Sweden's cons-general in Jerusalem, confirmed that negotiations with the Israelis are ongoing over the complicated regulations involved in getting the people out of Gaza, Dagens Nyheter reports.

One of the current obstacles is that the Israelis are demanding that all those permitted to leave be citizens of a foreign state, while many of those falling under Swedish responsibility in Gaza have only permanent residents permits and are not formal Swedish citizens.

Further factors complicating matters is that the Israelis are demanding that those allowed to leave Gaza be in possession of an approved exit visa - something that few of the 20 Swedes in the territory have.

Norway's representative for the Palestinian territories, Tor Wennesland, reported to TT that despite assurances from Israeli authorities they had neither been able to extract their citizens from Gaza.

"There is no one who is able to drive people through the front in northern Gaza," Wennesland said.

The Czech Foreign Minister, Karel Schwartzenberg, is heading an EU delegation which also includes the Swedish and French foreign ministers, Carl Bildt and Bernard Kouchner, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, which has been in Cairo to broker contact with Hamas leaders. According to the BBC, a delegation from Hamas is on its way to Egypt for talks.

The EU appealed on Sunday for a ceasefire and an end to Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel and Israel's shelling of Gaza.

The Israeli assault against Hamas militants entered its tenth day on Monday and Palestinian authorities report that the conflict has claimed more than 500 lives so far with a further 2,500 wounded.

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