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21 Mar 2006 : Column 335W—continued

Iraq

John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has received regarding the use of torture in Iraq. [58810]

Dr. Howells: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, recently received a letter from Amnesty International referring to their report published on 6 March that asks the UK to take concrete steps to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to protect detainees from torture or ill-treatment in Iraq. We fully agree that detainees should be well treated and not subject to torture. We will continue to take steps to help ensure this is the case.

John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what estimate he has made of the number of prisoners being held without charge or trial by the Iraqi authorities. [58812]

Dr. Howells: We have not made an estimate of the number of prisoners being held without charge or trial by the Iraqi authorities, but we raise with them regularly our concerns that anyone detained should be brought to justice as soon as possible.
 
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Israel (War Crimes)

Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assurances were given by (a) Ministers and (b) officials in his Department to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni during her visit last week in relation to the issuing of arrest warrants against (i) Brigadier-General Aviv Kochavi and (ii) any Israeli citizen accused of war crimes. [57447]

Dr. Howells: I met with Tzipi Livni, Israel's Foreign Minister, on 2 March. I explained that the Government are currently considering a range of issues relating to the issuing of arrest warrants in international cases, but has not yet concluded what changes, if any, are required to current legislation. Any proposals for amending the current legislation would be a matter for Parliament.

Israel-Palestinian Peace Process

Mr. Fabian Hamilton: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the likely effects on regional stability of Hamas's opposition to the Israel-Palestinian peace process. [60014]

Dr. Howells: On 30 January, the Quartet (UN, US, EU and Russia) reiterated their view that there is a fundamental contradiction between armed group and militia activities and the building of a democratic state. All members of a future Palestinian Government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap. We support this approach.

We have made no specific assessment on the effects on regional stability if Hamas choose not to accept previous agreements and obligations. However, we are monitoring developments closely.

Jericho Monitoring Mission

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what notification (a) he and (b) his representatives in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv gave to (i) the Palestinian Authority and (ii) the Israeli Government prior to the decision to withdraw the US-UK Jericho Monitoring Mission; when such notification was given; and if he will make a statement. [59332]

Mr. Straw: We issued a joint US/UK letter to President Abbas on 8 March 2006, which noted that if the Palestinian Authority (PA) did not come into full compliance with the Ramallah Agreement and made substantive improvements to the security of the monitors or came to a new agreement with the Government of Israel, we would have to withdraw our monitors with immediate effect. In accordance with our obligations under the Ramallah Agreement, our ambassador in Tel Aviv informed the Israeli Authorities that we were delivering a letter in these terms on 8 March. After 8 March, the Consul General in Jerusalem called the President's office on four separate occasions to allow an opportunity for a response.

On 15 December 2005, our Deputy Head of Mission in Jerusalem informed the President's Office that we were concerned about security and that, if we felt that the PA could not provide adequate security, we would withdraw them. We also raised our concerns with them
 
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on at least five separate occasions after this point. On 17 and 22 February our ambassador in Tel Aviv informed the Israeli authorities that we might have to withdraw from the mission due to security concerns. On 10 March, our ambassador in Tel Aviv contacted the Israeli Authorities to urge that Israel exercise caution if the monitors had to withdraw.

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he had with his Israeli counterparts prior to the decision to withdraw the US-UK Jericho Monitoring Mission regarding the future of the six prisoners involved in the Ramallah Agreement; and if he will make a statement. [59557]

Mr. Straw: None.

In accordance with our obligations under the Ramallah Agreement, our ambassador in Tel Aviv informed the Israeli Government on 8 March of the contents of the letter to President Abbas which noted that unless the Palestinian Authority (PA) met their obligations we would have to terminate our involvement with the mission.

On 17 and 22 February, our ambassador in Tel Aviv informed the Israeli authorities that we might have to withdraw from the mission due to security concerns. This information had also been communicated to the PA initially on 15 December. On 10 March, our ambassador in Tel Aviv contacted the Israeli Authorities to urge that Israel exercise restraint if the monitors had to withdraw. I urged the same when I spoke to Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Foreign Minister, on 14 March, after the withdrawal had taken effect.

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on how many occasions the UK Consul General made representations to the Palestinian Authority regarding its failure to comply with core provisions of the Jericho Monitoring Mission arrangements since the mission was established; and if he will make a statement. [59558]

Mr. Straw: There have been frequent representations made by the UK and the US since the mission was established. We have records as early as August 2002 which noted that the Palestinian Authority (PA) were failing to meet their obligations on cell searches, visitor regimes and mobile phones. The monitors have been unable to confirm the continuous seclusion of Shobaki and Ahmed Sa'adat since 8 November 2002. Since December 2005, when the security risk to our monitors increased, UK officials made at least six separate representations to the PA.

After we delivered the letter on 8 March to the President's office, our Consul General in Jerusalem raised this issue a further four times with the President's office to allow for a response.

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment was made by the British Consul General in Jerusalem of the consequences of the withdrawal of the US-UK Jericho Monitoring Mission; and if he will make a statement. [59559]

Mr. Straw: We assessed there was a risk that Israel might attempt to secure the six detainees potentially resulting in Palestinian casualties and a broader Palestinian reaction. On 10 March, our ambassador in
 
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Tel Aviv urged Israel to exercise restraint if the monitors had to withdraw. We also gave the Palestinian Authority every opportunity to undertake the measures necessary to avoid us having to take this action. However, ultimately the safety of our personnel had to take precedence.

Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs by what medium the UK monitors at Jericho prison were told to withdraw; and when the instruction was relayed. [59570]

Dr. Howells: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made the decision on 8 March, that a letter should be sent to President Abbas informing him of our intention to withdraw the monitors with immediate effect unless the conditions noted in the letter were met. Our Consul General in Jerusalem called the President's office on four separate occasions after delivering the letter to allow an opportunity for a response. As none was forthcoming, the team of monitors due to deploy to the jail on 13–14 March were informed on 13 March to withdraw the following day. The monitors withdrew at a time judged to provide the greatest security to our monitors.

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with (a) members and (b) representatives of the (i) Government of Israel, (ii) Palestinian Authority, (iii) United States Administration, (iv) EU presidency and (v) UN concerning the incursion into Jericho prison by the Israeli defence forces; and if he will make a statement. [59590]

Dr. Howells: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken with Israeli Foreign Minister Livni, President Abbas and Saeb Erekat, Head of Negotiations and Affairs Department of the Palestinian Authority, the US Secretary of State and the Austrian Foreign Minister regarding the events in Jericho on 15 March. He had no discussions with the UN.

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the nature and mandate was of those UK citizens present in Jericho Prison at the time of the incursion by the Israeli Defence forces; what discussions his Department has had with these individuals since the incursion; and if he will make a statement. [59591]

Dr. Howells: Under the terms of the 2002 Ramallah Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), UK and US personnel monitored the seclusion of six Palestinian detainees. The PA remained responsible, for their detention. There were no UK or US personnel present at the time of the Israeli incursion. My Department has been in contact with the monitors since they left to ensure they arrived back safely in the UK.

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment his Department has made of the damage caused to the America-Mideast Educational and Training Services premises in Gaza following their storming by Palestinian militants; what assessment his Department has made of (a) the likelihood of an increase in such activity and (b) the vulnerability of (i) EU and (ii) UK
 
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organisations in the area since the incursion by the Israeli defence forces into the Jericho jail; and if he will make a statement. [59592]

Dr. Howells: We have made no specific assessment of the damage to the premises referred to. We continue to remain concerned by the deteriorating security situation in the occupied territories. On 14 March, we changed our travel advice to warn against all travel to the occupied territories. We have also urged the Palestinian Authority to take steps to improve security for all foreign nationals and organisations. We remain in close contact with EU and UK organisations and citizens in Gaza and the west bank on security issues.

Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the UK had an obligation to inform the European Union of the decision to withdraw its monitoring presence from the jail in Jericho; and whether the UK informed the EU in advance of the decision. [60143]

Dr. Howells: The EU was not party to the Ramallah Agreement and as such there was not an obligation to inform partners. It was imperative that information about the actual date of withdrawal was kept to a limited few to ensure the safety of our unarmed personnel. On 14 March, we briefed EU partners on the reasons for our withdrawal at the Political Security Committee and issued a statement to all EU partners explaining that we had to withdraw our monitors to ensure their safety.

Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what was his most recent assessment of the security of the UK monitors at Jericho Prison in relation to (a) the prisoners, (b) the Palestinian prison and security forces, (c) other Palestinian groups, (d) Israeli forces and (e) others; and whether these assessments were different from those made 12 months previously. [60156]

Dr. Howells: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to her on 17 March 2006, Official Report, column 2532W. We assessed that the risk of our monitors being kidnapped had increased in recent months. In December 2005, we learned of plans by militant groups to kidnap the monitors. This was consistent with the sharp rise we had seen in kidnaps elsewhere in the Occupied Territories, which have included British nationals. In late 2005, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) kidnapped two teachers, demanding the release of Ahmed Sa'adat, one of the detainees. It was also increasingly clear that the Palestinian Authority (PA) were unwilling to take any action against those involved.

We requested that the monitors and six detainees were moved to another area of the prison to provide additional security for our monitors. I refer my hon. Friend to a copy of the letter we have placed in the Library of the House. However, this was not implemented. With the Palestinian Legislative election in January the risks to UK and US monitors increased further. During the election campaigns, the prisoners repeatedly, and inaccurately, accused the UK and US of illegally detaining them. After Ahmed Sa'adat was elected, PFLP and Hamas called for the release of political prisoners. There was a heightened risk of the PA unilaterally
 
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releasing the prisoners. The Government of Israel had made public commitments not to allow the prisoners to go free and we were concerned the monitors could be caught up in an arrest operation.

This information, plus the knowledge that the current location of our monitors was unsafe, all contributed to the decision to withdraw. The failure of the PA to address our concerns despite repeated attempts left us in an untenable position. Ultimately the safety of our personnel had to take priority.

Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he has taken to satisfy himself that there was no advance discussion between the US and Israeli administrations on the withdrawal of the (a) US monitors and (b) UK monitors from Jericho Prison. [60171]

Dr. Howells: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) today (UIN 59761).

Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to his written statement of 14 March 2006, Official Report, columns 95–96WS, on the Jericho Monitoring Mission, at what time the (a) US and (b) UK monitors left the precincts of Jericho Prison on 14 March. [60173]

Dr. Howells: The monitors informed the Deputy Head of Mission of the Consulate General in Jerusalem that they had withdrawn from the mission at 07:30 local time on 14 March 2006.

Richard Burden: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he received assurances from the US Administration that no notification of the likely timetable or method of withdrawal of UK and US monitors from Jericho Prison would be given to the government of Israel or any of its agencies. [59761]

Dr. Howells: The joint decision between the UK and US to remove the monitors was focused on their safety. It was considered too dangerous by the US and UK to inform either Israel or the Palestinian Authority of the planned date of withdrawal.

Mr. Galloway: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when the decision was taken to withdraw British monitors from the prison in Jericho; and if he will make a statement. [59897]

Dr. Howells: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made the decision on 8 March that a letter should be sent to President Abbas informing him of our intention to withdraw the monitors with immediate effect unless the conditions noted in the letter were met. Our consul general in Jerusalem called the President's office on four separate occasions after delivering the letter to allow an opportunity for a response. As none was forthcoming, the monitors withdrew at a time judged to provide the greatest security to our monitors.

Mr. Galloway: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when the Government informed (a) the Palestine National Authority and (b) the Israeli Government that the UK would be withdrawing British monitors from the prison in Jericho; and if he will make a statement. [59898]


 
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Dr. Howells: The UK and US consul generals issued a joint letter to President Abbas on 8 March 2006, which noted that if the Palestinian Authority (PA) did not come into full compliance with the Ramallah Agreement and make substantive improvements to the security of the monitors or come to a new agreement with the Government of Israel, we would have to withdraw our monitors with immediate effect. In accordance with our obligations under the Ramallah Agreement, our ambassador in Tel Aviv informed the Israeli Authorities that we were delivering a letter in these terms on 8 March. After the letter was delivered, our consul general in Jerusalem called the President's office on four separate occasions to allow an opportunity for a response.

On 15 December our Deputy Head of Mission in Jerusalem informed the President's office, that we were concerned about security and that if we felt that the PA could not provide adequate security, we would withdraw them. We also raised our concerns with them on at least five separate occasions after this point. On 17 and 22 February, our ambassador in Tel Aviv informed the Israeli authorities that we might have to withdraw from the mission due to security concerns. On 10 March our ambassador in Tel Aviv contacted the Israeli Authorities to urge that Israel exercise caution if the monitors had to withdraw.

It was considered too dangerous to inform either Israel or the PA of the actual date of withdrawal.

Mr. Galloway: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the likely impact on British interests in the Arab and Muslim world of the decision to withdraw British monitors from the prison in Jericho; and if he will make a statement. [59899]

Dr. Howells: We have not yet made such an assessment. Our first priority was to safeguard the lives and welfare of our monitors at the prison in Jericho. We remain fully committed to supporting the Palestinian people, and pursuing an active role in the region.

Mr. Galloway: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with his US counterpart on the decision to withdraw British monitors from the prison in Jericho; and if he will make a statement. [59901]

Dr. Howells: The only discussion my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had with his US counterpart about the British monitors was on 14 March.

Richard Burden: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will place in the Library the letters from (a) consular officials and (b) Ministers to President Abbas sent prior to that of 8 March concerning perceived threats to the security of UK and United States' personnel working at Jericho Prison. [60052]

Dr. Howells: The requests to the Palestinian Authority to address our security concerns were carried out verbally. In December 2005, we did request that the monitors were relocated to another area of the prison to provide additional security. On 4 January, our Deputy Head of Mission in Jerusalem wrote to the Ministry of Interior noting what work we wanted to undertake to
 
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increase the safety of our monitors. I have placed a copy of this letter in the Library of the House. No action was taken to allow this work to proceed.


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