[holding answer 19 January 2009]: EU-Israel relations are an important part of our engagement with Israel which has at its core the goal of achieving lasting peace in the middle east. Current discussions on the EU-Israel relationship include enhancing discussion of human rights issues.
[holding answer 20 January 2009]: We are very concerned about reports of white phosphorus ammunition being used by the Israeli Defence Force in Gaza. We have made this clear directly to both the Foreign Ministry and Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv.
I have also made clear to the House that Gaza is an exceptionally densely populated area where white phosphorus used as an air burst is liable to cause particularly horrific injuries to non-combatants. We consider such use in these circumstances unacceptable.
We are not aware of allegations that cluster bombs have been used in Gaza.
The increasing tension between Israel and Hamas was very clear in early December 2008. With rocket attacks increasing and the Hamas declaration that it would not renew the ceasefire on 19 December 2008, there was clearly a risk of Israeli military action. We did not however have specific prior warning of Israel’s intention to launch the aerial operation.
Similarly, while we were well aware of the likelihood of an Israeli ground operation to follow up the Israeli air operation, we were aware of preparations being made and we were discussing the conflict frequently with the Israeli authorities in our efforts to secure a ceasefire, we had no specific prior warning of Israel’s intention to launch the ground operation.
As I told the House on 15 January 2009, Official Report, column 396: “the Israeli action has been disproportionate”. We have consistently urged Israel to avoid civilian casualties and from the outset have called in public and private for an immediate and sustainable ceasefire.