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Israel and Lebanon: Cluster Munitions

Volume 693: debated on Monday 9 July 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What further discussions there have been either directly or through the European Union or the United Nations with the Government of Israel to ensure that the teams clearing cluster munitions in south Lebanon have access to the co-ordinates of the shells fired last year by the Israeli army.

My Lords, the UK regularly raises this important issue with Israel bilaterally and through the EU and UN. The British embassy in Tel Aviv last discussed this with the Israeli defence forces in April and UN forces in southern Lebanon do so on a regular basis. Additionally, in April, the EU, with full UK support, reiterated its call for the full disclosure of all relevant information to the UN. However, I very much regret that Israel has yet to provide the UN with detailed data on the use of cluster munitions during last year’s conflict. I take this opportunity to repeat the UN Secretary-General’s call for this information to be made available immediately.

My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer. I should declare an interest in that a few weeks ago I was in southern Lebanon looking at the process of clearing these dreadful weapons. Is my noble friend aware that the teams clearing these cluster munitions said that it would be enormously helpful in their dangerous work if they had the co-ordinates of the shells that launched them? Does she further agree that it is unacceptable for any country to use weapons that harm civilian populations long after the conflict is over and that it is only right to go on demanding that all countries should make such information available—or, better still, to ban the weapons altogether?

My Lords, the Government pay great tribute to the teams working on the de-mining processes in southern Lebanon and elsewhere. As for the abolition of cluster bombs, we warmly welcome the Oslo process and the excellent work done to ensure that dumb cluster bombs are no longer legal.

My Lords, in order to get rid of unexploded cluster sub-munitions, it is necessary to know where they are. Does the noble Baroness recognise that on 17 April the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked a Question on whether the British Government had given the co-ordinates of the cluster munitions that we used in Serbia in the recent Kosovo war to the Serbian Government, and that the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, replied in a letter on 15 May to say that the British Government had handed the co-ordinates to NATO and that NATO would “in due course” hand them to Serbia? It has been eight years for children to blow their feet off. If NATO has not yet done this, why can we not send our co-ordinates to the Serbians direct and get others to do the same?

My Lords, it is rather shameful that the information detailed by the noble Lord has not been provided henceforth. I do not know why it has not been, but I am aware of the exchange of correspondence to which he referred. I fully take on board his point. If NATO has not yet forwarded the information—I understand that it is in the process of doing so—I will ensure that the idea he put forward is put to the Ministry of Defence.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree with the head of an Israel Defence Forces rocket unit based in southern Lebanon who said:

“What we did was insane and monstrous; we covered entire towns in cluster bombs.”?

Is she confident that the Israelis know, as they are supposed to, where these bombs were dropped? Is this not an argument, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, for a comprehensive ban on these bombs, both the dumb ones and the so-called smart ones?

My Lords, we cannot be entirely confident that Israel knows exactly where all the cluster bombs are—I am not sure that any Government could be—but I am as a confident as I can be that it knows where they are. As for the abolition of cluster bombs, the Government are working within the Oslo process and the CCW precisely to try to ensure that there are no more dumb cluster bombs, but that if cluster bombs are used, they are used in full respect of human rights.

My Lords, I am sure that many of us would agree that Israel should provide these co-ordinates. However, are we really in a position to be quite so critical when, eight years after the use of such weapons in Serbia, the alliance of which we are a very important, integral part—that is, NATO—has failed to give the same information to the Serbian authorities? If we are still using these ghastly weapons, should this sort of information not be sent as a matter of routine after hostilities have ceased?

I fully agree, my Lords; as I said, I am ashamed that the information was not provided to Serbia earlier. When this information is required specifically by the UN, it should, and must, be provided as a matter of course.

My Lords, we all agree that these are horrific and horrible weapons, and I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Elton and indeed many others for their ceaseless campaigning until these dumb weapons are outlawed and the Oslo process really makes progress. But perhaps I may widen the Question a little on to not so much the cluster-bomb side as the south Lebanon side.

Is the Minister aware that the Lebanese Government in Beirut are hanging on by a thread—by the vote and opinion of one Minister only—under colossal pressure from Hezbollah and other disruptive forces outside? Does she recall that, with their hand on heart, the British Government and the American Government and others made massive proposals for supporting Mr Siniora and the Lebanese both in clearing up the cluster bombs and in reconstruction, and that these resources were supposed to be forthcoming? Does she realise that a weekend conference is coming up in Paris to consider how further help can be given to this fragile Government? Will she assure us that the British Government are living up to their word and doing what they said they would do in supporting Mr Siniora, before Lebanon collapses and with it still further support for peace in the Middle East?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that the situation in Lebanon is very fragile. The Government are certainly living up to what we said we would do. We are supporting the Lebanese Government as strongly as we can. The noble Lord will also be interested to know that the Security Council will be looking at this issue on 18 July when it considers the report of the independent assessment team on arms smuggling across the borders together with the report of the Secretary-General, to see what else the United Nations as a whole might do to support Lebanon.

My Lords, can the Minister assure us, in view of what she has said and the moral attitude she has struck, that the British Government will now forward to the Serbian Government all the details they have of the locations of weapons in Serbia forthwith, and cease sheltering behind NATO?

My Lords, the Government were not sheltering behind NATO. We were observing a process that is usually followed; that is, to provide NATO with that information. In respect of the “moral attitude” that I took, as I explained earlier—

As I explained earlier, my Lords, that was in relation to only one point, but I am totally assured that the Government would act morally on each and every occasion. If NATO has not yet provided the information to Serbia, I will speak to my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence to see if it can be provided directly.