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7. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What assessment he has made of the recent elections in Belarus. [65123]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): We support the assessment made by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe's election observation mission and deeply regret the atmosphere of intimidation and suppression in which the elections were conducted. As the European Council made clear, they were fundamentally flawed. We applaud those in Belarus who stood up for democracy and deplore the unjustified action taken to prevent demonstrators and opposition leaders from exercising their right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.

Miss McIntosh: In regretting that the recent elections were neither free nor fair, will the Minister go further and draw conclusions for the European Union from the undemocratic nature of those elections? What can the EU and Britain do to encourage freedom of speech, freedom of expression and democracy in Belarus?

Mr. Alexander: On 10 April, at the General Affairs and External Relations Council of the European Union, there was agreement to a travel ban against the 31 individuals deemed responsible for the fraudulent election and the subsequent crackdown on the opposition. That travel ban includes President Lukashenko. As for future action, the European Union and the United Kingdom stand ready to consider further targeted restrictive measures. We are also seeking to step up the active support that we offer to civil society in Belarus, and indeed to a free media.


8. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): If he will make representations to the Israeli Government to halt the exclusion from Jerusalem of those with Jerusalem identity documents cut off by the Israeli wall. [65124]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): First, let me also commiserate over the sad death of Peter Law, who represented a constituency not far from mine.

We frequently raise freedom of movement issues with the Israeli Government. We are particularly concerned about Israeli policies on East Jerusalem, which threaten to separate the city and its people from the West Bank. We recognise Israel's right to defend itself from terrorist attacks, but we will continue to raise our concerns about
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movement restrictions with the Israeli Government, including the issue of Jerusalem ID card holders affected by the barrier.

Dr. Starkey: I am grateful for the Minister's comments and for the representations made to the Israeli authorities, but the fact remains that 80,000 residents of Jerusalem have been cut off from the rest of Jerusalem by the Israeli wall. Children as young as six are being forced to travel 30 km to Ramallah, obtain a permit to go through to Kalandia and return to the other side of the wall in Jerusalem, just to get to school and back. That has absolutely nothing to do with security and everything to do with the Israeli Government's forcibly changing the demography of Jerusalem to exclude non-Jews.

If the British Government and the European Union are serious in their commitment to the road map, when are we going to take effective action to stop the Israelis from unilaterally excluding 80,000 Jerusalemites from their own country? The type of protest that we have made so far—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady must let the Minister reply.

Dr. Howells: I visited Jerusalem recently and saw for myself the effects of the construction of the wall. It is not a pretty sight and it is having a very bad effect on the lives of many people in the city. I can reassure my hon. Friend, however, that we take the matter very seriously. As far as I know, we are the only country that takes up consulate cases in which British citizens living in Jerusalem—perhaps married to Palestinians—find themselves on the wrong side of the barrier, as a consequence of which their access to work, hospitals and doctors is cut off. We take that very seriously, and I know of no other countries that do.

My hon. Friend should be aware that we are pressing the Israelis very hard and will continue to do so.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Until there is a cessation of the bombings such as the recent one in Tel Aviv, and until there is condemnation by Hamas, the civil rights of the Palestinian people will continue to suffer. Does the Minister see any sign of movement by the Hamas Government towards an understanding of that, or any sign that at some stage they might be prepared to condemn the bombings that require such serious and rigid security arrangements in Israel?

Dr. Howells: That is an important observation. I am sure that we are all watching carefully for any signs that Hamas is—as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary put it—travelling in the right direction. We see few signs of that at the moment. We heard today from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) that there had been arrests in Jordan of Hamas members who had been plotting assassinations and recent statements in response to the appalling murder by a suicide bomber in Tel Aviv are not encouraging. We will, however, continue to do all that we can to impress on Hamas—the newly elected Government of the Palestinian people—that it should recognise the right of the state of Israel to exist, that it
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should renounce violence, and that it should stick to previous agreements that form the basis of the road map which we consider to be the best and indeed, at the moment, the only way forward.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend understand that every act of repression and suppression by the Israelis against the Palestinians increases support for Hamas, which, in turn, provides the Israelis with justification for refusing to negotiate with Hamas? Will he further understand that every act of repression and suppression of the Palestinians by the Israeli Government is a recruiting call to the kind of gullible person who was recruited by Islamic Jihad to murder nine innocent Israelis, and that that will go on until our Government and other Governments take action to force both sides to get on with implementing the road map?

Dr. Howells: There is very little that any of us would argue with in what my right hon. Friend said, except this. It would be facile to describe this as a chicken-and-egg situation, but this continuing round of tit-for-tat murder, repression and suicide bombing is not something that we can force either side to give up. There has been movement, however. Sharon's unilateral decision to get out of Gaza showed that, sometimes, action can be taken. Not all such action has been beneficial, by any means, and there is no doubt that it helped to accrue at least some support for Hamas. But if the world sticks to the Quartet's approach, it is entirely possible to persuade the Israelis not to construct any more illegal settlements in the west bank, and to convince the Palestinian people that the only viable future for a Palestinian state lies in its having a peaceful relationship with its neighbour, Israel, rather than one characterised by death, murder and suicide bombing.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): On tit-for-tat murder, I am sure that the Minister welcomes the restraint shown by the Israelis after the latest outrage. I agree with him that the road map to a twin-state solution is the right way to proceed. Does he feel that the withdrawal of grant aid will help or hinder that process?

Dr. Howells: We have thought very hard, as have other nations, about what we should do to ensure that the Palestinian people themselves do not suffer as a consequence of the withdrawal of aid. We do not want to withdraw aid—we are the second largest donor to the Palestinian people and have been for a very long time; only the Americans give more money. The Palestinian people themselves might put pressure on the representatives of Hamas to understand that the world takes a very bleak view of the statements that Hamas has made until now about its desire to see the state of Israel wiped off the map. Together, all of us have to condemn such statements. There can be no dissension and as far as I know, the only comments to have backed Hamas's inflammatory statements are those that emerged from Tehran and President Ahmadinejad, and they do nobody any good whatsoever.
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9. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): What plans he has to visit Yemen to discuss bilateral relations; and if he will make a statement. [65126]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has no immediate plans to visit Yemen, but I had the pleasure of visiting that country in January. We maintain a wide-ranging dialogue with Yemen, including on security and reform issues. We are looking for substantive progress on these issues in the run-up to this year's presidential elections and beyond.

Keith Vaz: I welcome my hon. Friend's visit to Yemen earlier this year, which built on the successful meeting between President Ali Abdullah Saleh and our Prime Minister at Chequers in August 2004. If my hon. Friend agrees with me that relations with Yemen are both productive and friendly, and that Yemen is an ally in the fight against terrorism, will he look again at the travel advice being issued by the Foreign Office, which prevents individuals—other than Ministers, of course—from visiting Yemen? As a result of such advice, the people to people contact that is so vital to maintaining bonds of friendship is not as productive as it should be.

Dr. Howells: I can see where my hon. Friend is coming from, and he knows Yemen better than anybody else in the House, but he will also recall the spate of kidnappings of tourists in December and January. I am sure that he would be asking different questions if we did not maintain a responsible attitude to the publication of travel advice for Yemen and areas where such kidnaps take place. We do not want British citizens to be kidnapped or killed: we want to work with the Yemeni Government to ensure that the kinds of reforms that will reduce the threat of such things occurring happen sooner rather than later. I understand my hon. Friend's point, because the country should be a tourist paradise. It is a beautiful country, with a wonderful history and beautiful cities. If the security situation could be put right, the country could benefit greatly from those assets.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Yemen is the poorest country in the middle east. What practical steps are the Government taking, in terms of military, police and civil contingencies, to prevent Yemen from becoming an incubator for international terrorism?

Dr. Howells: We have an extensive programme of counter-terrorism capacity building with the Yemeni authorities, including the training of the coastguard, and training in investigative techniques, forensic science and crime scene management. The Department for International Development also has a significant programme of development assistance to Yemen, worth £12.5 million last year, which is one of the biggest outside Africa, China and India. It is focused on two main priorities—building an effective and accountable state and improving the accessibility of key services. I take the hon. Gentleman's point: it is important that we maintain links and try to build capacity in that country.
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