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Middle East Peace Process/Lebanon

Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 10 October 2006

I welcome the opportunity to update the House on developments in the Middle East since my last statement on 13 September.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, advancing the Middle East Peace Process is a key priority for this Government. This is vital above all for the Israeli and Palestinian people, but also for the stability and prosperity of the region. As events this summer demonstrated, the failure to resolve this conflict has serious consequences for the international community, including for the security of our citizens.

Since my last statement to the House, I have met my Israeli counterpart, Tzipi Livni, and Palestinian President Abbas, and, together with Security Council colleagues, I have met the Arab League and the parties to discuss how best to re-energise the Middle East peace process.

Over the coming period we will remain fully engaged in helping to drive the peace process forward, working closely with both parties and our international partners. We welcome the decision of the Quartet to meet with the parties and with the key regional players. We continue to encourage Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas to meet as soon as possible.

In particular, we must work with our partners, particularly in the EU, to develop a new programme to build viable institutions for a future Palestinian state. As we set out at the London meeting in 2005, capacity building in the occupied territories remains central to advancing the peace process. We will continue to do all we can to support this work. We will also work closely with the US Security Co-ordinator, General Dayton, and other international partners to improve Palestinian security. Past events have repeatedly shown that without progress on this, extremists will always be able to block the political process.

We and the international community must continue to support President Abbas. I would like to pay tribute again to his courage in advancing the interests of his people and the cause of peace. We support his efforts to work for a Palestinian authority Government based on the three Quartet principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of past agreements. As the Prime Minister has made clear, we would work with such a Government.

We remain deeply concerned by the situation on the ground, particularly in Gaza. We call for the immediate release of Corporal Shalit, and particularly welcome efforts by the Government of Egypt and President Abbas to secure his release.

The UK is committed to helping the Palestinian people. The Department for International Development has committed £30 million to the Palestinians this year. This is in addition to the €329 million given by the European Commission this year, the largest contribution in a single year. The UK supports an extension of the "Temporary International Mechanism” to help alleviate the situation. We are working with EU and Quartet partners to deliver this. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, announced yesterday, the UK is providing an extra £3 million to the mechanism.

Lebanon

The situation in Lebanon has improved significantly since the unanimous adoption on 11 August by the UN Security Council of Resolution 1701. The ceasefire which the resolution established continues to hold. Israeli forces have withdrawn from Lebanon except for those in the divided village of Ghajar. The Lebanese Armed Forces have deployed in large numbers across the country, including along the Blue Line and in areas in southern Lebanon in which they have not been seen for many years. The first phase of the expansion of UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), over 5,000 troops, has been deployed in full. A second phase of some 5,000 further troops is in preparation.

The Prime Minister, during his visit to Lebanon in September, stressed our continuing commitment to supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces, with equipment and training, as they take control throughout the territory of Lebanon. Javier Solana announced on 3 October that the EU will send a team of experts to Beirut to take the EU’s work in this area forward.

I pay tribute to the UN, its Agencies and the many NGOs involved for the manner in which, during the height of the humanitarian crisis, they delivered essential supplies in difficult circumstances. Most of the Lebanese people displaced by the conflict have now returned, but some 200,000 have been unable to re-occupy their homes because of the level of destruction in their villages or their contamination by unexploded munitions.

The reconstruction effort is now under way. On 31 August, the Secretary of State for International Development attended the Stockholm conference for Lebanon’s early recovery. The Government of Lebanon set a target of $530 million for its recovery plan, but in the event pledges from countries attending the conference reached over $940 million. He announced in Stockholm a further £4 million package of UK assistance, covering unexploded munitions clearance, shelter, water and sanitation, and bringing the UK total to over £21 million.

We continue to work with the UN Secretary-General and international partners to ensure the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, and the earlier resolutions relating to Lebanon. Prime Minister Siniora and the Government of Lebanon have our full support in their effort to secure Lebanon’s sovereignty and prosperity. We urge all countries, including Syria and Iran, to implement the Security Council’s requirements and to provide firm support to the Government of Lebanon in meeting the challenges ahead.