Skip to main content

Middle East

Volume 449: debated on Tuesday 25 July 2006

We are gravely concerned by the situation in Lebanon, Israel and the occupied territories. We are urging restraint on all sides and are working with international partners to secure a durable ceasefire. It is important that the abducted Israeli soldiers are released and that Israel acts proportionately, conforms with international law and avoids civilian death and suffering. Ultimately, to resolve the situation in both Gaza and Lebanon, we need to deal with the underlying causes, so we must get negotiations between Israel and Palestinians back on track and make progress towards the two-state solution.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. If she recalls, there was a summit at Sharm el-Sheikh last year, and the Israelis promised to release Palestinian prisoners. However, there are still 9,000 Palestinians in detention or prison, including 400 children. In addition, 33 Palestinian Ministers and Members of Parliament are also in detention. The Israelis must understand that there cannot be peace and stability in that region unless they give the Palestinians their independence and their liberty.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is one of the more distinguished contributors for her record in all of these spheres, and I understand the concern that she expresses. I can tell her that, particularly with regard to the recent detention of Ministers and Members of Parliament, international concern has been expressed and there continue to be calls for their release. I can also tell her that the wider concerns that she expresses about Palestinian prisoners in general are shared, and that much discussion and negotiation is going on at the current time about all of these issues.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that a ceasefire will be short lived unless both Hezbollah and Hamas agree to give up their weapons and agree to a ceasefire themselves, and that, sadly, neither looks like happening?

As my hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East said in response to earlier questions—and as Senator Mitchell said on the “Today” programme this morning—it is of course the case that any ceasefire that is other than a ceasefire on both sides, and any ceasefire that does not have the capacity to be durable and sustainable, simply will not hold. The right hon. Gentleman is right that, sadly, there seems to be little evidence that either Hamas or Hezbollah has much interest at present in such a ceasefire.