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9. Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the political situation in Lebanon. [218401]

The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Since the bomb attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on 14 February, Lebanese opposition politicians have worked closely together to demand a full investigation into the attack and the full implementation of the Taif accord. On 28 February, in the face of public protests following the attack, including a general strike, the Lebanese Government resigned. As my noble Friend Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean made clear when she visited the Lebanon last week, the UK urges all parties in Lebanon to implement United Nations resolution 1559, which supports the sovereignty of Lebanon and the exercise of its rich tradition of democracy.

Mr. Luke: I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister and the House as a whole share my concern for Lebanon and its democratic institutions after the brutal assassination two weeks ago of former Prime Minister Hariri, and yesterday's resignation of Prime Minister Karami. Other concerns centre around the continued presence in Lebanon of Syrian intelligence forces. As a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to that beautiful country last year, I was privileged to see the economic and political progress that has been made there since the end of the civil war. Will my hon. Friend do all that he can to ensure that that progress is maintained and improved on?

Mr. Alexander: I concur that real progress has been made in Lebanon. Our compass to guide us forward is UN Security Council resolution 1559, which made it clear that there should be respect for that country's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence. It urged all remaining foreign forces to withdraw and called for the disbanding of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): The European Commission has approved a new aid package worth €50 million for Lebanon in 2005–06. Does the Minister agree that the best trade and development guarantees between the EU and Lebanon arise through the upholding of democracy and independence in that country?

Mr. Alexander: I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are working closely with EU partners in respect of the UN Security Council resolution to which I referred, and also in respect of the ongoing aid and development support. Democracy is important, and that is why we were keen to support the resolution when it came before the UN.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): Lebanon has a long history of trouble as a result of foreign interference. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that means that we must work with the EU, the UN and other international bodies to achieve a
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framework in that country that will enable free and fair elections to be held, and a degree of stability to be secured?

Mr. Alexander: I concur that international organisations have an important role to play, not least in respect of the investigation of the assassination that took place this month. That is why we welcome the steps taken by the UN Secretary-General in that regard.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): News emerged yesterday that elections are to be held in Lebanon and, as the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) said, they must be free and fair. Does not that make it all the more urgent that UN Security Council resolution 1559, and the comments by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Syrian troops should be withdrawn by April at the latest, are acted on?

Mr. Alexander: I certainly concur that it is important that the terms of that Security Council resolution should be taken forward, and I understand that those issues are being discussed with EU partners and others at the margins of today's important meeting in London. In addition, the same points were made forcibly by my colleague Baroness Symons when she visited Lebanon last week.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the situation in southern Lebanon, where the writ of the Lebanese Government has not run for years and which is under the control of Hezbollah, which uses its position there regularly to launch attacks into northern Israel? As well as encouraging Syria to withdraw its regular troops from Lebanon, should we not also encourage it at every opportunity to desist from giving financial and military support to Hezbollah?

Mr. Alexander: The British Government have proscribed Hezbollah's external security organisation as terrorist, and we take every opportunity to make clear the importance of ending terrorism from whatever source and directed towards whomsoever in the middle east.

Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): The Opposition welcome yesterday's resignation of the pro-Syrian Government in Lebanon, although we are concerned about the potential for instability in both Lebanon and the regime in neighbouring Syria. If Syria does not withdraw from Lebanon—thus failing to comply with UN Security Council resolution 1559—continues to back terrorists in the middle east and Iraq, fails to plug its porous borders and fails to disarm the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, how will the Government assist the US in enforcing the UN resolution?

Mr. Alexander: I would not want to anticipate all those circumstances, because clearly, work continues to avoid them. The Syrians have recently withdrawn a number of troops from Lebanon—of course, that is to be welcomed—but we are clearly of the view that the terms of the Security Council resolution should be upheld. As for the hon. Gentleman's concern about instability, I understand that the Prime Minister of
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Lebanon will form a caretaker Administration while President Lahoud consults on a new Administration, and we are certainly committed to supporting the opportunity for the Lebanese people to have their say in democratic elections in due course.

Middle East

10. Mr. John MacDougall (Central Fife) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the measures the new leadership of the Palestinian Authority is taking to prevent terror attacks being launched against Israel. [218402]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I am sure that I speak for the whole House in condemning utterly the terrorist outrage in Tel Aviv on Friday last, in which four Israelis were killed and many more were injured, and in sending our condolences to the Government and the people of Israel.

The new President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, condemned that outrage in unequivocal terms last Friday, and he did so again at this morning's meeting of the London conference, which is being held at the Queen Elizabeth II centre, across Parliament square. In his opening address to that conference, President Abbas set out his plans greatly to improve the Palestinian Authority's security structures, with help from the international community. Co-operation with the Israeli security services has already been significantly strengthened.

Mr. MacDougall: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. He mentioned affairs in Tel Aviv on Friday, which suggest an inability to tackle the terrorists effectively and directly—a requirement that must be addressed. Indeed, he also mentioned today's conference. Can he give an assurance to the House that that conference has resulted in comprehensive international scrutiny of, and therefore support for, the Palestinian Authority in their efforts?

Mr. Straw: The conference is still continuing, but I shall ensure that once it is concluded, the formal resolution conclusions of the conference are made available to the House immediately. Part of the draft conclusions are about better support by the international community—including the United Kingdom, which is playing a leading role in this respect—for the security sector reform of the Palestinian Authority. The expectation by the whole international community, and by the Government of Israel in respect of the Palestinian Authority, is that the Authority and its security services make every effort to control terrorist organisations operating in the occupied territories, but the expectation cannot be that there will be no terrorist outrage from the occupied territories, because it needs to be understood that those terrorist organisations, while their main and immediate aim is the killing of innocent Israelis, are also seeking to undermine the authority of the democratically elected Palestinian Authority.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I am sure that the Foreign Secretary agrees that nothing, but nothing, justifies a suicide bomb of the kind that was
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detonated in Tel Aviv, particularly if there is evidence to suggest that that atrocity was instigated or even encouraged by another country in the region. He is right to remind us there are those who reject any proposals for a peace settlement and will take any action they consider may have that result. On the eve of today's important meeting, the Foreign Secretary was reported as having endorsed the need for a full-scale peace conference. Does he agree that it is essential to maintain the momentum? When might we expect a full-scale peace conference?

Mr. Straw: The endorsement of an international peace conference is not something that happened yesterday; that endorsement has long been the position of the British Government following our support for the road map, which has in phases 2 and 3 the need for such an international conference. A theme of the discussions that I heard before coming to the House for Question Time was the need for the conference, and for it to be held as soon as possible. I am afraid that I cannot give the right hon. and learned Gentleman or the House an exact time scale, because that depends on progress. However, the quicker the progress on the matters laid out in the first phase of the road map—that is essentially the agenda for today's discussion—the better the confidence between Israel and the Palestinians will be, and the more quickly we can get on to such conferences in phases 2 and 3.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): What steps can my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary take to undermine support for rejectionist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas? Is he prepared to take stronger measures against support for such organisations in this country?

Mr. Straw: I was the Home Secretary who proscribed the military wings of Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. Whether the remaining activities of those organisations can be proscribed is an evidential matter, not a matter of the Government's intention. The issue is being kept under close and active review by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): May I associate the Conservative party with the Foreign Secretary's words of condemnation of the horrific suicide bombing in Tel Aviv last week?

We welcome the meeting that is taking place in London. Support for Mahmoud Abbas is crucial at this pivotal time. Can the Foreign Secretary assure Mahmoud Abbas that so long as he is committed to peace and the eradication of terrorism we will stand firmly by him? Can he go further, and offer assistance in pursuit of the sponsors and armourers of the suicide bombers, whose sole intention is the sabotage of the peace process? Would he be prepared to propose an international initiative on the ground within the west bank to help Mahmoud Abbas to crack down on terrorist activity?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's initial remarks and his support for the London meeting. We are doing what I believe he anticipates—giving a great deal of practical financial
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support to the Palestinian authority so that it can improve its security apparatus. I saw that when I visited the UK-financed and trained staff of the control room in Ramallah. We are ready to do more, as, I believe, are the United States Government. It is one thing to improve operational capacity on the ground in Gaza and, more importantly, the west bank. However, alongside that, we are engaged in serious discussions with some of Israel's neighbours, particularly Syria and Iran, about their need not to be equivocal in respect of those organisations that the rest of the world regards as terrorist organisations, and to end whatever support they are giving to Hamas, Hezbollah and any other rejectionist organisations.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West) (Lab): I agree with everything that my right hon. Friend has said, and I remind the House that one way of dealing with rejectionist forces is to improve the lot of the Palestinians in the west bank and Gaza. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the sooner we can conclude the conference and move the agenda forward for ordinary Palestinians, the more likely they are to go along with us in the actions necessary to stop the people whose sole objective is to destroy peace?

Mr. Straw: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. His remarks echo those made this morning by Jim Wolfensohn, head of the World Bank, who in an eloquent address to the London meeting said that economic development requires security, but that security requires economic and social development. The more quickly we can raise the living standards of everyone in the area, the better security will be.

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