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Lebanon: EU Interim Intervention Force

Volume 685: debated on Monday 16 October 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their assessment of the progress made by the European Union interim intervention force in Lebanon.

My Lords, the United Kingdom welcomes the progress being made in Lebanon towards the implementation of UNSCR 1701. The cessation of hostilities has continued to hold. Israel has withdrawn from Lebanon, apart from the divided village of Ghajar, and the Lebanese army is now patrolling the Blue Line supported by a strengthened UNIFIL. EU member states are leading on the UNIFIL deployment, and the EU is also assisting the Government of Lebanon with border security, training and equipment. The United Kingdom has allocated £2.5 million as part of this effort.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. These are national contingents, of course, but they are from EU and other countries. Is the Minister confident that this is going to work this time, bearing in mind all the setbacks of the past? I am sure that he would agree that we would not want any Jericho jail débâcles in this case—it is on a much bigger scale anyway. Regarding the European countries that are there and Mr Solana’s strenuous efforts to get co-ordination and make sure that this does hold firm, is the Minister confident that it will stand as an agreement against Israeli intransigence, against further attacks by Hezbollah on Israeli civilians and against repeats of the rather shaming US/UK complicity when they tried to delay the start of the ceasefire at the end of July?

My Lords, let me start by saying that I do not accept the last assertion at all. On the substance of the noble Lord’s question, it is undeniably true that the position is now better as a result of the deployment, as is the capacity of the Lebanese Government to deploy their forces right through the south of Lebanon for the first time in30 years. I take those to be encouraging signs. I am also encouraged by the number of countries that are now stepping forward with agreements to deploy troops over the next period in addition to the 5,000-plus who are already there. It would probably be a very bold person who said that they were confident that anything would work in the Middle East this time, but we are giving it our very best shot, and that is what we are obliged to do.

My Lords, will Her Majesty’s Government now refrain from sending sophisticated weaponry from the United States via Prestwick to Israel for the purposes of any further conflict?

My Lords, transit through the airports of the United Kingdom will be undertaken in accordance with international law, as it has been for a very long time. I am intrigued by the question because the Minister responsible for Prestwick airport is the Liberal Democrat Minister in the Government of Scotland. I do not doubt that the Liberal Democrats will have questions that they wish to ask of their own party in Scotland.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that nothing would benefit the future security, stability and economic progress of Lebanon more than a genuine and active attempt by all parties to the road map to move forward the peace process in the Middle East?

My Lords, I agree with that 100 per cent, and I do not think that I could add anything more persuasive than the question itself.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us what progress he thinks is being made in the disarmament of Hezbollah? Is it his assessment that, after all the misery, Hezbollah is today weaker after the Israeli invasion or stronger, as many people think? They believe it to be more active and, apparently—according to Mr Nasrallah—with more weapons than when it started.

My Lords, it is hard to make an assessment of whether Hezbollah is stronger or weaker, but I take some comfort from the fact that the Government of Lebanon are now able to patrol, with their own forces, the whole of their territory. As I have said, that position has not existed at any time in the past 30 years. It is absolutely clear from UN Security Council Resolutions 1599 and 1680— apart from Resolution 1701 most recently—that there is an obligation on Hezbollah to disarm. There are requirements on the United Nations forces—I accept that they have not yet done this—to help to achieve that disarmament. Let me just add this: in the acceptance by the Government of Lebanon of the full terms of those United Nations Security Council resolutions, Hezbollah Ministers in that Government did not dissent from the requirement to disarm.