Campaigners 'dismayed' at government trade visit to Israel

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CAMPAIGNERS are urging First Minister Alex Salmond to cancel a trade mission to Israel next week.

In an open letter to Mr Salmond Scottish Friends of Palestine (SFoP) said the Scottish Government failed to understand the negative publicity the visit could generate for Scotland.

Representatives of trade body Scottish Development International (SDI) are due to make a six-day visit to Tel Aviv starting on Sunday as part of the Smart Successful Scotland initiative. The visit aims to form links with Israel's life sciences industry.

In their letter to Mr Salmond, SFoP write: "Having observed the previous supportive positions of the Scottish Government in relation to Palestinian issues, it is with surprise and dismay that we learned of the impending visit.

"We feel there has been a total failure by the Scottish Government to comprehend the consequences of such a visit."

Professor Graham Watt, head of the department of general practice at the University of Glasgow and a trustee of UK charity Medical Aid for Palestinians, said: "The ultimate question Mr Salmond must ask himself is, what is Scottish public opinion on continuing to have relations with Israel when it continues to behave the way it does?"

David Lonsdale, assistant director of the Confederation of British Industry Scotland, said: "We are entirely supportive of SDI's efforts to encourage more Scottish firms to grow their business by exporting and by establishing trade links overseas."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Government supports a number of trade-related missions to the Middle East, for example last October when SDI visited the United Arab Emirates.

"The government's position in the situation in Gaza is very clear, and the deputy First Minister announced a substantial package of humanitarian aid last year."