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Syria And Lebanon (Situation)

Volume 411: debated on Tuesday 29 May 1945

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps His Majesty's Government are taking to implement their pledge to maintain the independence of Syria and the Lebanon, in view of the recent arrival of French reinforcements there and the announcement of the withdrawal of the British Brigade from South Lebanon.

A serious situation has arisen in Syria. Some French reinforcements recently arrived in Lebanon about the same time as the French Delegate-General brought the French proposals for a final settlement between France and the Levant States. Considerable popular excitement has been caused and there have been disturbances in Homs and Hama and on a lesser scale in Damascus and Aleppo. There is also some tension in other parts of the Middle East.

The net increase of French troops is very small, about five hundred men, but His Majesty's Government had told the French Government of their fear that their arrival might cause regrettable reactions.

The British Brigade to which my hon. Friend refers has been in Syria for a short period of routine training. It has no connection with any of these events.

We are in active consultation about these developments with the French Government and with the United States Government, which is also closely concerned, because the tension in the Middle East is liable to affect one of our lines of communication to the Far East. I think, in the interests of a settlement, that it would not be desirable for me to say more than that for the moment.

Meanwhile, I am sure the House will share my hope that all parties involved in the present discord will behave with caution and prudence. It would be inexcusable if developments in Syria or the Lebanon were to create a situation which interfered with the prosecution of the war in the Far East and nothing in the present situation would justify such a development.

Are the Governments of the two Republics expected to negotiate whilst 75's are firing on their towns; and ought not a preliminary to negotiations be the withdrawal of the French people?

My hon. and gallant Friend ought to be in a very good position to realise the delicacy of these matters. Our responsibility here is to try to the best extent in our power to bring about an improvement in the situation between the two Levant States, with whom we are friends, and our great Allied neighbour across the Channel, and I am sure that I should be doing no service to the cause of amity between the two nations if I were to add a single word to what I have said.

Are we making it clear to the French Government that, as long as French troops remain in Syria and the Lebanon, there will never be peace or security in the Middle East?

The hon. Gentleman knows that this matter is wrapped up in the possibility of negotiations. As a result of the great efforts, largely by His Majesty's Minister on the spot, we had hopes that negotiations were going to begin. Then, unhappily, they were timed to coincide with the arrival of these reinforcements. We expressed our regret about that, and we have now got to start again to see if we can produce a better situation.

May I ask whether, in any representations to the French Government, the right hon. Gentleman will remind them of the categorical assurance given by General Catroux as to control by the Syrians and Lebanese of their own army; and whether, in regard to the strategic considerations, it would meet their case if they had bases similar to those we have in Iraq?

The hon. Member can be assured that these matters are ever in my mind; they are hardly ever out of it, but the difficulty is to produce circumstances in which the situation which we have created in Iraq can be repeated, and that needs confidence between the negotiating parties, which, unhappily, does not exist now.