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British Forces, Aqaba

Volume 463: debated on Monday 28 March 1949

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has considered the report recently made by the Acting Mediator on Palestine to the United Nations on the sending of troops by His Majesty's Government to Aqaba; what is contained in that report; and what reply has been sent by His Majesty's Government to the United Nations organisation in respect thereof.

In view of the length of the reply, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Would the hon. Gentleman say at this stage whether it is not a fact that the accounts of alleged incidents on the borders of Transjordan and Israel are highly exaggerated? Is it not also a fact that Dr. Bunche has declared that there is no cause at all for alarm, and will my hon. Friend please take steps to stop these false rumours?

I do not know to what particular accounts my hon. Friend is referring, but if he will read my answer, perhaps it will help him.

Following is the reply:

I am making available in the Library of the House the conclusions of the report telegraphed by the Acting Mediator to the United Nations on 22nd March and circulated there as Document S/1295 of 23rd March. It will be seen that these conclusions refer to the reinforcement of British Forces at Aqaba as a fact and without criticism. The British Force at Aqaba is there at the request of the Transjordan Government, a request with which His Majesty's Government were obliged to comply under the Anglo-Transjordan Treaty. It has recently been reinforced in view of the advance of Israeli forces to the Gulf of Aqaba, so that it should be capable of fulfilling its mission in any circumstances. This mission is to defend the Port of Aqaba, and to support Transjordan in case her territory should be attacked.

The Transjordan Government had, on 2nd January, sufficient reason for invoking the Anglo-Transjordan Treaty and requesting the dispatch of a British Force to Aqaba, after the series of military advances by Israeli Forces in recent months and violations of the true resolution of the Security Council. These began with the Israeli advance in the northern Negeb on 15th October. Later in October, the Israeli Forces seized Western Galilee, which was originally allotted to the Arabs by the United Nations, and thence invaded Lebanese territory, where they have hitherto occupied frontier areas. On 22nd December, a further Israeli offensive against Egypt started, resulting in incursions into Egyptian territory. Finally, shortly after the Israeli-Egyptian armistice was concluded, Israeli Forces moved southward to the Gulf of Aqaba. This series of forward moves by the Israeli Government, and their contravention of the injunctions of the Security Council, gave the Transjordan Government sufficient cause to fear Israeli intentions in regard to their southern frontier.

Criticism that the dispatch and reinforcement of the British Force at Aqaba is contrary to the Palestine Truce is presumably based on the third paragraph of the Security Council resolution of 29th May, which calls upon all Governments and authorities concerned to undertake that they will not introduce fighting personnel into.Palestine and the Arab States during the cease-fire. I am making the text of this resolution available to the House. It cannot reasonably be supposed that this resolution meant that the United Kingdom, which was not in any way engaged in the conflict, was debarred from reinforcing or altering the composition of its Forces in the Middle East; or that the United Kingdom should not supply its own Forces with such arms and ammunition as they might require. Movements between the British Forces stationed at various points in the Middle East have, in fact, been freely carried out without comment or criticism from the Acting Mediator or the United Nations. Moreover, it has been made clear that the task of the Aqaba Force is strictly defensive. The Transjordan Government have requested His Majesty's Government to assist them with patrols along the frontier near Aqaba, and His Majesty's Government have been considering this request. They hope, however, that a successful conclusion to the cease-fire negotiations at present being carried on between Israel and Transjordan would render such action unnecessary. So far from the presence of a defensive British Force at Aqaba impeding negotiations between Israel and Transjordan, His Majesty's Government are convinced that it is only the presence of this Force which has stabilised the situation and enabled the negotiations to proceed as far as they have now done. With reference to the last part of the Question, I would add that a statement on the foregoing lines is being communicated to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.