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Middle East Wars (Casualties)

Volume 77: debated on Wednesday 24 April 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what information he has about the number of fatal and non-fatal casualties since the beginning of 1984 in the Iran-Iraq war, the Lebanese civil war and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Since the beginning of 1984 there has been much tragic loss of life resulting from the Iran-Iraq conflict, the Arab-Israeli dispute, Lebanese intercommunal violence and the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon. No authoritative casualty figures are available to us. With our partners in the European Community, we have consistently called for an end to the violence, and we stand ready to support all constructive moves towards negotiated solutions of the problems of the region.

Does the Minister agree that, in view of reports from all types of media, of the three areas of conflict in the middle east, the most dangerous is the Iran-Iraq war, followed by the internal strife in Lebanon and the Arab-Israeli conflict?

I do not think that it makes a great deal of sense to apportion an order of priority. In terms of casualties, the Iran-Iraq conflict is having devastating consequences for both sides. Our priority is to work as hard as we can with other parties, principally through the United Nations and the work of the Secretary-General, for a diplomatic solution. The hon. Gentleman should not underestimate the gravity of the other problems.

As the casualties, human suffering and threat to world peace will continue in all of those areas until progress towards a settlement is reached, will my hon. Friend comment on progress towards a peace settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute? Does he think that the recent visit of Mr. Murphy has advanced the possibility of a major American initiative in the near future?

As my hon. Friend knows, we very much welcome the agreement of 11 February between King Hussein and Mr. Arafat, which we felt was a basis on which progress could be made. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has had two important discussions with President Reagan. We have kept in very close touch with the United States, and we welcome the President's statement that there will now be renewed efforts on his part to see whether progress can be made on this problem. To that end, we are very glad that Mr. Murphy is undertaking his tour of the middle east.

Unless I misheard the hon. Gentleman, am I right in thinking that he made reference to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, but failed to make reference to the thousands of casualties caused by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon?

No. I have already mentioned south Lebanon, and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government strongly condemned the Israeli invasion. We are extremely critical of the iron fist policies of Israel at the present time. However, we welcome the fact that the Israeli Government have decided, in phases two and three, to withdraw within their own international borders, and we hope that they will do so as soon as possible.

What further steps can my hon. Friend take to represent the revulsion felt by many people in this country at the contemptible and grotesque behaviour of the Israeli forces in Lebanon?

I have already said — and said in the House in recent weeks—that we certainly condemn the iron fist policies, as they are called, of the Israeli Government. This cycle of violence, retaliation followed by counter-retaliation, serves no one's interests, least of all those of the people of the Lebanon. What conceivable interests of Israel can this serve? We look forward to the early and orderly withdrawal of the Israelis.

Has not one of the casualties of the Arab-Israeli conflict been the fate of the 4,000 Jewish community in Syria? Will the Minister make representations to the Syrian Government on their behalf?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Syrian Government are well aware of this Government 's views on aspects of human rights in Syria, and they will continue to be made so aware.