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Gaza

Volume 488: debated on Tuesday 24 February 2009

7. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on peacekeeping initiatives for the Gaza strip. (257920)

The Foreign Secretary and I this morning met special envoy Mitchell to discuss Gaza and the middle east. We reiterated the UK’s determination to support the ceasefire, both by helping to stop arms smuggling into Gaza and by pressing the Israeli Government to open the crossings. The Foreign Secretary will be leading the UK delegation to the Gaza reconstruction conference in Egypt on Monday.

When I recently visited Palestine with the Halifax Friends of Palestine group I saw for myself the atrocities being committed against the people there; day after day, they are terrorised, homes are demolished, concrete walls are built, which prevent children from going to school, and innocent lives are lost. Will the Minister reassure me that he is doing everything he can, working with his international counterparts, to protect the Palestinians and their land, and to find a swift and peaceful solution?

I say to my hon. Friend, who takes a real interest in these issues, that there has clearly been an unacceptable loss of innocent civilian life. The reality is that we have been at the forefront of efforts to press for a ceasefire, including by leading the way at the United Nations Security Council. We are strongly supporting efforts to stop arms smuggling into Gaza and we are strongly pressing the Israeli Government to open the crossings. However, peace will ultimately be secured by the actions of Hamas, on the one hand, and the Government of Israel, on the other.

Is it not the case that Hamas continues to store arms in schools, mosques and civilian areas? The arms are clearly still getting through. Does not the international community have a role to play in stopping things being smuggled from Egypt and in assisting the Egyptian authorities in ensuring that the tunnels are maintained? [Interruption.]

I get the point. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that unless we tackle both sides of this, we will not get the security and the peaceful solution that people seek. That is why we, in concert with other international partners, are doing everything possible to support the Egyptian efforts to tackle smuggling across the borders. We have also, in our own right, made an offer of naval assistance, and that, too, might be able to make a contribution.

My hon. Friend has indicated that the Government will pursue, with vigour, the interception of arms going into Gaza—such arms could threaten Israeli civilians. Could he say precisely what action is being taken to ensure the protection of Palestinian civilians from Israeli attack?

We led the way at the UN Security Council to obtain the ceasefire that has been achieved, fragile though it is, and we have consistently made it abundantly clear that there has been an unacceptable loss of innocent civilian life and that that has to stop. We need to provide security, not only for the Palestinians, but for the Israelis in southern Israel.

I have just returned from an all-party group visit to Gaza, where we witnessed the aftermath of the total destruction of the village of Izbit Abed Rabbo, east of Jabalia, and the consequences of white phosphorus attacks on a children’s centre and music school. In his statement to the House on 12 January, the Foreign Secretary said that he wanted to see an investigation into such abuses. What are the Government doing to ensure that such an investigation takes place?

We have made our view clear and we have also supported the UN Secretary-General’s calls for such investigations into abuses of international humanitarian law. We are certainly concerned about reports on the way in which white phosphorus ammunition has been used in Gaza, and we have made our concerns abundantly clear to the Government of Israel.

In light of a report published by Amnesty International on 10 February detailing extra-judicial executions carried out by Hamas, does my hon. Friend agree that there is an urgent need for the Palestinian Authority to have a presence in Gaza in order to restore the rule of law?

I agree with my hon. Friend. President Abbas is the elected leader of all Palestinians, and I very much hope that next week’s reconstruction conference in Egypt will be able to discuss, among other things, in what way the Palestinian Authority can be involved in the reconstruction of Gaza.