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South Lebanon

Volume 571: debated on Wednesday 1 May 1996

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2.55 p.m.

What steps they are taking in the Security Council and elsewhere to achieve a long-term solution to the conflict in South Lebanon.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, the United Kingdom co-sponsored Security Council Resolution 1052, which called for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon. We warmly welcome the ceasefire agreement that was reached on 26th April. We believe that talks within the framework of the peace process present the best chance for a long-term solution to the conflict, and we shall continue to give our full support to that process.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply, which is not specific but at least shows some grounds for hope. Does she agree that it is right to congratulate Mr. Warren Christopher on brokering the current ceasefire? On the other hand, is it not true that United States policy, and to some extent our own, with regard to the Israeli presence in South Lebanon has been inconsistent? While we have supported resolution after resolution (as has the United States) in the Security Council that Israel should withdraw from South Lebanon, nevertheless, like the United States, we have continued to supply military equipment, including, it is said, nuclear weapon components. Is it not time that we insist that Israel withdraws from South Lebanon and that, if necessary, as a safeguard we strengthen UNIFIL?

My Lords, we very much welcome the progress that has been made by the American Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, and by the efforts of the French Foreign Minister, M. Herve de Charette. We have been actively engaged throughout in efforts to end the fighting. The conclusions that the noble Lord tried to draw from his reading were themselves inconsistent. In all our dealings with the Lebanese and Syrian Governments, with the Israeli Government, with the Americans and with our European Union partners, the efforts to end the fighting have been unanimous. But as I said in answer to a Question in your Lordships' House last week, when faced with the problem of the Katyusha rockets into Israel there was bound to be a reaction. Anyone who thinks that Israel was not right to defend herself, even if some agree that she went over the top, is really living in Cloud-cuckoo-land. Of course a nation must be able to defend itself. That is the basis of Chapter 51 of the United Nations Charter. So we should not be surprised at United States policy; but ours is totally consistent and will remain so.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there will be no resolution of the whole problem so long as Iran continues, via Syria, to finance and arm the Hizbollah? Will Her Majesty's Government approach the Governments of Germany and France to try to persuade them to join other countries in exerting pressure on the Iranian regime?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. Until the Hizbollah stop being armed by Iran or any other country there will not be any easy end to this process. But I know from our discussions that both the Lebanese and Syrian Governments are well aware of the disastrous potential that the arming of Hizbollah is causing. That is why they are working in the diplomatic effort to make sure that the ceasefire lasts.

My Lords, while I agree with the Minister that some Israeli reaction to the terrorist bombardment by Hizbollah was inevitable, does she not agree that the main outcome of the indiscriminate Israeli bombardment of Lebanese territory is to increase the people's support for Hizbollah and to undermine the United Nations' prohibition on military aggression against neighbouring states?

My Lords, one always understands that two wrongs never make a right and when it is a wrong in warfare, as this was, that is bound to lead to a polarisation of views, which is both unwise and unproductive. The noble Lord will know that a report is being made to the United Nations which will shortly be discussed in the Security Council and with the UNIFIL troop contributors. I hope that the Israeli Government will provide the Security Council with any evidence they have relating to this issue; that it can be resolved; and that no further attempt is made to resolve it by military might.

My Lords, perhaps I may pursue a little further one of the points made by my noble friend. Does the Minister agree that the only long-term solution to this conflict is the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon? Do the Government support the French initiative to obtain an undertaking from both Israel and Hizbollah that they will avoid targeting civilians with a view to getting the phased withdrawal of Israel from southern Lebanon back on to the agenda, with the possibility of a multilateral force in its place?

My Lords, I am quite certain that the efforts of M. Herve de Charette are very worth while, as I said in answer to an earlier question. I also believe that the Middle East peace process provides the best hope for a lasting peace and that the agreement reached on 26th April cannot be seen as a permanent solution to the problems of South Lebanon. Obviously, a permanent solution to the Middle East peace process will involve the withdrawal of all occupying forces. That is very necessary. In the meantime the requirement is always that the civilian populations are not targeted. The fact that they were has resulted in terrible tragedy in this case, as in so many others; but that is war.

My Lords, lest there should be any misunderstanding as a result of the exchanges in your Lordships' House, will the Minister make clear that, contrary to a suggestion made earlier by a noble Lord, there is no evidence whatsoever that the United States has supplied components for nuclear weapons to Israel? To me, that is a most extraordinary suggestion, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government can assure us that there is no evidence of that.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in every respect.

My Lords, I believe that we may want to get on.