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EDINBURGH City Council has pulled a debate on twinning with Gaza city following pressure from an Israeli lobby group, prompting anger from MPs and campaigners.
A petition on the proposal was due to be discussed earlier this week by councillors.
But the item was pulled at short notice from the agenda on Tuesday afternoon, with council officials saying this was done to allow legal advice to be taken.
It comes after the council’s head of legal services was warned by UK Lawyers for Israel that councillors involved in the twinning could face criminal charges under terror legislation for supposedly endorsing Hamas, a proscribed group in Britain.
But campaigners argue that the claims are unfounded, highlighting the fact that multiple other European cities including Barcelona are twinned with the Palestinian city.
The bid also comes a decade after the small Northern Irish town of Moyle successfully twinned with Gaza City in 2012, despite the council there facing similar legal threats.
At that time, Moyle District Council — which has since been absorbed into Causeway Coast and Glens Council — sought advice from various government departments and the police to consider whether the twinning would breach terror laws.
Cllr Padraig McShane, who led the Moyle-Gaza twinning campaign, told the Morning Star that “no-one could find fault with the twinning in any shape, form or fashion.”
Although new laws have since been passed extending the ban on Hamas to its political as well as military wing, Cllr McShane argued that the recent legal threat was still a “red herring.”
“The long and short of it is that [twinning agreements are] a humanitarian agreement between two peoples and not two political entities and therefore it’s completely legal and above board,” he said.
Attempts to thwart the twinning of Edinburgh with Gaza City undermine the right to freedom of speech and amounted to censorship, he said.
Scottish MPs have also expressed disappointment at the council’s decision to pull the discussion.
Central Ayrshire SNP MP Philippa Whitford, who supports the twinning bid, said: “This twinning project is not an endorsement of Hamas, or any of its policies, but an expression of solidarity between the people of Edinburgh and people living under very difficult conditions in Gaza.”
The petition was submitted to Edinburgh City Council by campaigner Peter Gregson.
“Israel is undermining our democracy with threats, stopping friendly relations between cities,” he said.
The petition is now unlikely to be discussed until mid-June.
A City of Edinburgh Council spokesperson said: “Once legal advice is received, councillors will then be able to consider a response to the petition, based on Edinburgh’s current international framework.”
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