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Middle East: Armed Conflict

Volume 502: debated on Monday 14 December 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received of the discovery by Israel Defence Forces (IDF) of three explosive devices in the West Bank on Thursday 3 December; whether he (a) has given and (b) plans to give assistance to the IDF to prevent terrorist attacks in Israel; and if he will make a statement. (306098)

We have received no such reports and the Israel Defence Forces have not asked for assistance. The UK has long made clear that terrorist violence is unacceptable. We shall continue to call on all armed groups to renounce the use of violence.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent reports he has received of the number of rockets held by Hezbollah in Lebanon that are capable of reaching (a) Haifa, (b) Tel Aviv and (c) other locations in Israel; and if he will make a statement. (306109)

There are no reliable estimates of Hezbollah weaponry and the precise number of rockets with what potential ranges.

The latest report from the UN Secretary General on UN Security Council Resolution 1701 however, highlighted that Hezbollah continues to maintain a substantial military capacity distinct from that of the Lebanese state. This is available on the UN website at

http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/sgrep09.htm

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make representations to the Government of Israel on (a) the use of sand pits to hold Palestinian detainees and (b) the transfer into detention within Israel of Palestinian detainees (i) during and (ii) following Operation Cast Lead. (306676)

We closely monitor Israeli detention operations and the situation of Palestinian prisoners. We will continue to emphasise to the Israeli authorities the importance of ensuring their legal processes are in accordance with international law and democratic norms.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the conclusion of the report of the UN fact finding mission on the Gaza conflict in respect of the blockade of Gaza. (306772)

We have stated the Government position on the Goldstone report on a number of occasions. Some aspects of the report were flawed—particularly its failure to acknowledge fully Israel's right to defend herself, and the inadequate attention paid to Hamas' actions. However, the issues raised by the report were very serious, and they should be credibly and independently investigated.

We have also been clear on our position on Israeli restrictions on access through the Gaza crossings. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised this with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on 14 October 2009. EU Foreign Ministers called for an “immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings” in conclusions on 8 December 2009, which are available at:

http://www.se2009.eu/polopoly_fs/1.27026!menu/standard/file/111829.pdf

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent reports he has received on the blockade of Gaza by (a) HM Ambassador to Israel and (b) HM Consul General to the Palestinian Authority; and on what date each most recently visited Gaza. (306773)

We receive regular reports about the current situation in Gaza from both our ambassador to Israel and our consul-general in Jerusalem.

Our consul-general in Jerusalem regularly visits Gaza for meetings at the British Information and Services Office. His most recent visit was on 1 December 2009.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what advice he has received on whether (a) Israel, (b) Hamas and (c) Egypt are in breach of the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1860; and if he will make a statement. (306777)

UN Security Council resolution 1860 is clear in its call for a durable ceasefire; the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance; and the prevention of illicit arms trafficking throughout Gaza.

Despite this, Hamas rocket attacks continue—they must stop immediately.

Our position on Israeli restrictions on access through the Gaza crossings is well known. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised this with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on 14 October 2009. EU Foreign Ministers called for an “immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings” in conclusions on 8 December 2009, which are available at:

http://www.se2009.eu/polopoly_fs/1.27026!menu/standard/file/111829.pdf

We have made clear our support for Egyptian-sponsored efforts to build a non-partisan, technocratic Palestinian Government, which would be capable of working productively with the international community. These Egyptian efforts continue.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the effects of the Gaza blockade on efforts to reach peace in the middle east. (306778)

We regularly press Israel to ease restrictions at the Gaza crossings and permit the legitimate flow of humanitarian and reconstruction materials, trade goods and people into Gaza. We urge Israel to do so immediately, regardless of broader peace negotiations.

The UK continues to vigorously pursue a comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution involving a viable Palestinian state living alongside Israel in peace and security.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he plans to take to end the blockade of Gaza. (306779)

We will continue to press the Israeli authorities, both at an official and ministerial level, to ease border restrictions into Gaza and allow the passage of essential humanitarian aid and reconstruction material. These concerns were recently highlighted at the EU Foreign Ministers Meeting on 8 December 2009. The EU Foreign Affairs Council conclusions are available at:

http://www.se2009.eu/polopoly_fs/1.27026!menu/standard/file/111829.pdf

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last requested the Israeli government to end the blockade of Gaza. (306780)

We have consistently pressed Israel to ease restrictions and allow the flow of essential humanitarian aid and reconstruction material into Gaza. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised this issue during his conversation with the Israeli Foreign Minister on 25 November 2009.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received on the (a) number of rockets or mortars fired from the Gaza strip into Israel and (b) injuries resulting from such attacks in each of the last four quarters. (306781)

According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry there were 762 rocket and mortar attacks during Operation Cast Lead, and 193 attacks between the ceasefire on 18 January and 8 December 2009.

There have been no Israeli fatalities since the ceasefire. We do not have figures concerning causalities.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received on (a) the number of incidents of (i) Israeli military incursions, (ii) rocket mortar or tank fire from Israel into Gaza, (iii) bombing and (iv) sound bombs in each of the last four quarters and (b) fatalities and injuries that have resulted. (306782)

We are unable to establish the total number of incidents in Gaza involving the Israeli Defence Forces in 2009.

However, according to the UN, since the end of Operation Cast Lead, a total of 85 Palestinians have been killed and 134 others injured in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on how many occasions in 2009 at the Erez crossing (a) British and (b) EU diplomats were shot at by Israeli or Palestinian forces; and what steps the Government have taken to reduce the risk of such incidents in future. (306787)

There have been two incidents which have involved Israeli Defence Forces firing warning shots at diplomatic officials. One incident involved an official from the British consulate-general in Jerusalem and the second an official from an EU consulate-general in Jerusalem. We have discussed our concerns with the Israeli authorities.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether HM Ambassador to Israel plans to (a) support and (b) attend the Gaza freedom march on 31 December 2009. (306789)

Our ambassador to Israel has no plans to attend the Gaza freedom march on 31 December 2009. We advise against all travel to Gaza. Despite the ceasefires continuing to hold, they are fragile and tensions remain extremely high.

We remain gravely concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and continue to urge the Israeli authorities to ease restrictions at the crossings and implement UN Security Council Resolution 1860 fully.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions (a) he and (b) his representatives have had with the UN Secretary-General on the publication of the UN Secretary-General’s report on the cost of damages to UN buildings and equipment in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead; and whether he has asked the UN Secretary-General to (i) publish his report and (ii) seek damages from the parties responsible. (306791)

The Government were deeply concerned by reports of incidents involving UN property/personnel during the Gaza conflict. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set up the UN Board of Inquiry to investigate certain incidents involving UN property/personnel during the Gaza conflict. The board reported back on 5 May 2009. The UN Secretariat are taking this forward directly with the Israeli Government.

It is for the UN Secretary-General to decide whether or not to make public anything further on this matter.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on how many occasions (a) he and (b) the Prime Minister have raised Gaza access issues with their Israeli counterparts; and on what occasions the Israeli Government has acceded to requests for access in the last 12 months. (306795)

The UK regularly urges Israel to reduce restrictions at the Gaza crossings and to allow the legitimate flow of humanitarian and reconstruction materials, trade goods, and people.

My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary last raised Gaza access issues with their Israeli counterparts on 14 October 2009 and 25 November 2009 respectively.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on Israeli controls on access to Gaza. (306796)

Middle East issues, including Gaza, were discussed in depth at the EU Foreign Ministers meeting on 8 December 2009. The relevant section of their conclusions reads:

“Gravely concerned about the situation in Gaza, the Council urges the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1860 and the full respect of international humanitarian law. In this context, the continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive. It has devastated the private sector economy and damaged the natural environment, notably water and other natural resources. The EU again reiterates its calls for an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza. In this context, the Council calls for the full implementation of the Agreement on Movement and Access. While extremists stand to gain from the current situation, the civilian population, half of which are under the age of 18, suffers. Fully recognising Israel's legitimate security needs, the Council continues to call for a complete stop to all violence and arms smuggling into Gaza. The Council calls on those holding the abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to release him without delay.”