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Middle East: Armed Conflict

Volume 473: debated on Thursday 13 March 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received of chemicals used to make explosives and propellants for rockets and bombs being smuggled into Gaza disguised as EU aid; and if he will make a statement. (191137)

We are aware of reports that attempts were made to bring potassium nitrate into Gaza in sugar bags labelled as European Union Aid. The UK welcomes the European Commission’s statement on this issue on 30 December 2007 that:

“Based on the information received, it appears that these bags cannot be confused with any kind of European Union humanitarian aid. We would consider it an isolated criminal act and we condemn it.”

The European Union distributes its food aid through UN agencies, rather than directly.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received on the recent conflict between Israel and Palestine in Gaza and consequent civilian deaths; and if he will make a statement. (192212)

The Government remain deeply concerned about the recent escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary issued a statement on 2 March, regarding the rise in the number of rocket attacks into Israel. The statement stressed the need for all sides in the conflict, and the international community to keep the political process alive. We also support the UN Secretary-General's call for all parties to step back from the brink of even deeper and more deadly clashes.

The full text of the statement is available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website at:

http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Fron?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1007029391629&a=KArticle&aid= 1203947188494.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on which occasions his Department issued criticisms of (a) Hamas and (b) Hezbollah for firing rockets into the State of Israel; and if he will make a statement. (192473)

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Howells) issued statements on 27 and 28 February condemning unreservedly the barrage of rockets on southern Israel from Gaza, that left one man dead and several others injured. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary issued a statement condemning the rocket attacks on 2 March. There can be no justification for the almost daily rocket and mortar attacks on Sderot and the surrounding area. The Government continue to call on all Palestinian factions to stop attacks, including rocket attacks, which target civilians and only escalate an already tense situation. At the same time, Israel must ensure its actions are in accordance with international law. It is important that all parties find a way to restore calm, for the sake of the populations on both sides. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, conveying his deep concerns and condolences on 28 February.

During the 2006 conflict between Hezbollah and Israel the UK issued numerous statements condemning the firing of rockets by Hezbollah into Israel. During the 2006 conflict we also repeatedly called on Israel to ensure its response was proportionate and avoided civilian casualties. Since the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, we are not aware of any instances when Hezbollah has fired rockets into Israel.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on which occasions his Department issued criticisms of the response of the government of Israel to rocket attacks by (a) Hamas and (b) Hezbollah in each of the last two years; and if he will make a statement. (192474)

We have issued numerous statements on rocket attacks from Gaza. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary’s statement on 2 March made clear, Israel must ensure its actions in response to rocket and other attacks are in accordance with international law. It is important that all parties find a way to restore calm, for the sake of the populations on both sides. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, conveying his concerns on 28 February.

During the 2006 conflict we also repeatedly called on Israel to ensure its response was proportionate and avoided civilian casualties. Since the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, we are not aware of any instances when Hezbollah has fired rockets into Israel.

Details of official statements issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), including an archive, are available in the news section of the FCO website:

www.fco.gov.uk.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether (a) the UK and (b) other countries through the UN have organised medical aid to assist the casualties in the recent Gaza-Israel conflict; and if he will make a statement. (193077)

We are deeply concerned about the recent escalation of violence in Gaza and Southern Israel. In the Gaza strip, emergency medical assistance is mainly provided by the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the Palestinian Medical Relief Society and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. The Government support the Ministry of Health through the European Commission's funding mechanism known as PEGASE (Palestine European De Gestion Et D’aide Socio-Economique). The Department for International Development has provided £41.6 million to Palestinians in 2007-08 with £18.45 million going through the PEGASE and the temporary international mechanism this financial year. In addition, the International Committee of the Red Cross, World Health Organisation and the UN Relief and Works Agency regularly import medicines into the Gaza strip.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has made to the parties concerned to bring about a Gaza-Israel ceasefire; and if he will make a statement. (193079)

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East, Dr. Howells, issued statements on 27 February and 28 February about the situation in Gaza and southern Israel. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary also issued two statements on 2 March and 6 March condemning the recent violence in Gaza and southern Israel.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken with the Israeli Foreign and Defence Ministers and the President of the Palestinian Authority to convey his deep concerns and condolences. Despite recent difficulties, we urge both parties to resist efforts to derail the peace process and are committed to supporting them in meeting their obligations. We hope to see a swift resumption of negotiations under the Annapolis process.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has made to support international action through the United Nations to bring about a Gaza-Israel ceasefire. (193080)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke with the UN Secretary-General on 7 March to discuss the recent violence in Gaza and southern Israel. A long-term solution to the crisis in Gaza can only come from a political process. Recent events make it all the more important for the parties, and the international community, to support the Annapolis process. All our efforts are behind this. We are working with all parties who support the two-state solution.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will take steps to encourage the European Union to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict. (193081)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed this issue with his European ministerial colleagues at the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council on 10 March 2008. The EU continues to play an important political role through its membership of the Quartet (US, UN, EU, Russia) providing political and economic support to the Annapolis process. The EU has consistently called for an end to violence and a peaceful, negotiated two-state solution.