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Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Mention has been made of the discussions and legal proceedings about a possible rerun of the presidential election in Ukraine. If that is to take place, does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is important to prioritise an important role for international observers from Russia, as well as from western Europe, to reassure voters in eastern and western Ukraine that any new polls will be free and fair?

Mr. Straw: I agree, but I should point out that Russia is a member of the OSCE.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): I welcome what my right hon. Friend had to say about the elections in Palestine, but did he make it clear to the Government of Israel that welcoming the possible disengagement from Gaza and the northern west bank does not imply any acceptance of the continued occupation of the rest of the west bank or the continued development of settlements in those areas from which the Israeli defence forces do not withdraw, including the moving of significant numbers of settlers from Gaza to the occupied west bank?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I did make that clear. We welcome the planned disengagement and withdrawal from Gaza and four key settlements in the northern part of the west bank as a necessary step in the implementation of the road map, but obviously that is by no means sufficient. If there is to be Israeli withdrawal, it has to start somewhere. That is very welcome in my view, and our responsibility is to ensure that the Palestinian Authority is able effectively to fill the vacuum that will be left by the Israelis when they withdraw from Gaza.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Is not an unfortunate side effect of the invasion of Iraq the fact that it sends a message to other dictators and authoritarian regimes everywhere that they are wise to arm themselves with nuclear weapons first? Will the Foreign Secretary therefore reassert the more traditional principle of non-interference in the affairs of a sovereign self-governing country unless that country represents a real and grave threat to its neighbours, ourselves or our allies, a test that was not met in the case of Iraq?

Mr. Straw: I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's premise. I believe that a basis for action under the United Nations Security Council and UN charter
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was plainly met. I remind the House that there were 17, I think, chapter VII resolutions in respect of which Saddam was in flagrant breach, including resolution 1441, and he remained in breach of them until 18 March when the House made its decision overwhelmingly to support military action. The nuclear weapons ambitions of neighbouring states or anywhere else have nothing whatever to do with the military action that we necessarily and justifiably took in Iraq. The anxieties about Iran's possible nuclear ambitions were there well before there was any suggestion of military action being needed in respect of Iraq.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend condemn the disgusting behaviour that has been reported among Israeli troops? It includes the murder of a 13-year-girl on the Gaza strip, the impaling of a head of a Palestinian in triumph and, with terrible echoes of the holocaust, the forcing of a Palestinian to play a violin at a checkpoint, one of a number of cases of appalling treatment of Palestinians at checkpoints. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Israeli Government why they condone this behaviour and do not call any of their troops to account for it?

Mr. Straw: Any such behaviour is to be condemned. I also say to my right hon. Friend, however, that none of the Israelis whom I met sought to condone it. Bluntly, they were ashamed of it and wished to see action taken. Equally, because this has been such a brutal conflict on both sides, I condemn similar or equivalent behaviour by Palestinian terrorists. It is important to recognise that what has happened, particularly over the past three and a half to four years, has been a brutalisation of both sides, leading to appalling excesses, all of which stand to be condemned by each side.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): On the elections to the presidency of the Palestinian Authority, may I particularly commend the Secretary of State for having raised the concerns of the House regarding the Israeli security fence? That is literally and metaphorically a barrier to the creation of the atmosphere that will be necessary for the elections to be held successfully. What assessment would he make of the prospects for meaningful progress by the Israelis towards dismantling the fence before 9 January?

Mr. Straw: There are two issues. The first is the discrete issue of the Israeli Government's need to comply with the decision of the Israeli High Court and on which some progress has been made. However, that affects a relatively small part of the fence. The other is the much bigger issue of the siting of the fence off the internationally accepted border. In respect of that, the Israeli Government position, as enunciated to me on a number of occasions last Wednesday, is that they are ready to move the fence as part of any negotiated final settlement. They point out that they did the equivalent when they moved from occupied Egypt as part of their signing of the peace treaty with Egypt. That is their position. However, I, in turn, made the point that is widely shared on both sides of the House. Today, we regard the siting of the fence outside the internationally
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accepted border as unlawful. It is also unacceptable for reasons that the House fully understands, including the fact that it denies livelihood and access to many thousands of Palestinians.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the disappointment here over the past few months is that the Israelis seem to indicate that they will evacuate only a small part of the occupied territories, with the other illegal settlements—some 400,000 people live in such places on Palestinian land—simply continuing? Secondly, the 13-year-old female was shot repeatedly by an Israeli officer who said that even if she had been three years of age, he would have done the same thing; yet he has not been charged with murder. Is not the fact of the matter that the Israeli authorities, especially the army, in the occupied territories are simply out of control?

Mr. Straw: As I explained, the shooting of the girl in such circumstances was shameful. I got the clear impression that the Israeli Government intended to take action on that.

David Winnick: Not for murder.

Mr. Straw: I shall certainly pursue the matter with them again if my impression is wrong.

My hon. Friend expressed disappointment that only a small part of the occupied territories is to be evacuated. Prime Minister Sharon's current plan, which has been approved by the Knesset, is to move completely out of Gaza as a whole, which will include the evacuation of seven settlements within it. Gaza contains 40 per cent. of the population of the occupied territories. However, the proposal on the four northern settlements in the west bank will affect only a relatively small part of the area. As I have said to the House, that would be a start, as a necessary stage of implementing the full withdrawal as required by the road map, but it would be by no means sufficient.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the situation in Ukraine goes to the heart of our national interest and far beyond the laudable commitment to a fair process? There is a deeply fearful Russian minority in the east who have seen what happened to Russian minorities in most of the other ex-Soviet states; in the rest of the country, there is a majority who are bitterly unhappy about a fiddled election process and who might, if the process is allowed to continue, give birth to an exodus that could dwarf even the massive outflow of people from eastern Europe at the fall of the Berlin wall. Bearing it in mind that English is the most widely spoken second language in the country, we have a real national interest in a subject with which we should engage.

Mr. Straw: Of course I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. We must also understand that the country is deeply divided. We do not know exactly what the true election result would have been if the process had been acceptable, but we can say that, plainly, each side has at least 40 per cent. of the vote. Such a difficult and dangerous situation requires wise counsel on all sides.
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Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab): With other Members of the House, I monitored the elections in Ukraine. In a report meeting chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), 20 teams of parliamentarians gave an upbeat assessment of their observations, although that, of course, did not take account of the long-term observers. Given that the country is totally divided between the two candidates and that the south-east is calling for a referendum to split the country, would there be any merit in running fresh elections with new candidates? Additionally, during the conference at Sharm el-Sheikh, did anyone ask whether napalm, or a substitute for it, has been used by the coalition during the war or since?

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