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Middle East

Volume 554: debated on Tuesday 4 December 2012

During the recent Gaza conflict, I underlined to Israel the need to abide by international humanitarian law and avoid civilian casualties. I welcome the ceasefire reached on 21 November, and I am urging all parties to fulfil their commitments under that agreement.

Although I welcome the ceasefire, does the Foreign Secretary share my concerns that UN figures show that since 2003 as many Gazans have died during periods of calm as they have during periods of conflict? That appears to show that there has been systemic failure by the Israelis in protecting civilians in Gaza. What he is going to do about that?

Of course we are concerned about the wider situation, including the humanitarian situation—I spoke a moment ago about the visit of the Department for International Development and the consul general. It is why we urge all parties concerned to take the opportunity that might arise from the tragic events of the past few weeks not only to observe the ceasefire but to go on to make agreements that will open up Gaza to trade and to development more effectively, and to end the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. If those things could be achieved, the situation would be much brighter for all the people of Gaza.

During the recent conflict, many of the rockets fired from Gaza never actually left Gaza and injured large numbers of Palestinians. At the same time, the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt appear to have reopened, allowing the Iranian-supplied missiles to be restocked in Hamas’s arsenal. What action is my right hon. Friend taking to stop that practice, so that conflict does not arise again?

My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to those factors. The answer is connected to the answer I gave a moment ago to the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin). There is an opportunity for Egyptian-led negotiations to bring the smuggling of weapons to an end, and to open up access into Gaza. That is an opportunity that all concerned must seize. We have strongly encouraged the Egyptian Foreign Minister in that work. I congratulated him on the night of the ceasefire on achieving that. The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire, who has responsibility for the middle east, has spoken to the Egyptians to encourage this—it is the way forward.

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House what recent discussions he has had with the Russian Government in relation to Gaza and Syria?

I will be with the Russian Foreign Minister on several occasions this week, including in Dublin on Thursday at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe summit, so I anticipate holding discussions with the Russians during the course of this week.