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The analysis and conclusions of the G8 and Saudi Arabia are absolutely correct. Since fighting began a matter of days ago, 1,600 Hezbollah rocket attacks have rained down on northern Israel. Some 29 Israelis have died in the past 10 days, including 15 civilians in rocket attacks. A million Israelis are permanently in bunkers and shelters, unable to work or go about their business. To be frank, it is surprising that the death count in Israel has not been a lot higher.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman balance his comments by accepting that 280 Lebanese have died, most of whom were civilian? The Israel defence forces have fired 654 artillery shells during this period and conducted 81 air strikes.

Mr. Wright: If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I will come to the question of proportionality shortly.

Hezbollah fires rockets without specific targeting, regardless of whether they might hit civilians. Its aim is to kill as many people as possible. The delivery systems for the rockets are crude and largely inaccurate. I understand that a Hezbollah rocket actually hit Syria on Tuesday night, so ineffectual is the targeting capability.

Many people, including the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross), have mentioned the need for proportionality in Israel’s response to the terrorist attacks. I absolutely agree about the need for proportionality, but is Israel meant to wait until Hezbollah improves the guidance systems on the rockets so that the death toll becomes much higher? There is criticism that Israel is wiping out the infrastructure of Lebanon and I will expand on that later on, if I may.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the attack on the Lebanese barracks that resulted in the death of 11 soldiers was disproportionate? Would that not justify the Lebanese Government defending themselves, if they saw fit, by attacking Israel?

Mr. Wright: I will come to attacks by Lebanon into Israel shortly. We should all recognise that Hezbollah is also trying to wreck Israel’s infrastructure—it is just that the means of achieving that effectively have not yet been reached.

Not all the rockets that have been used are Katyushas, which have been the missiles of choice for Hezbollah in recent years. Katyushas generally have a range of 20 km. If they are fired from southern Lebanon, they are able to hit northern Israeli towns, albeit with somewhat little precision. However, the past few days have seen rockets fired deeper and deeper into Israel. Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, has come under intense fire, and it has suffered some of the worst attacks in the current crisis. On Sunday morning, for
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example, Syrian-produced Fajr missiles hit Haifa, killing eight maintenance workers at a train depot and injuring 53 others. This week, Israel claims to have destroyed an Iranian-made missile—the Zelzal— which has a range of about 200 km. Those are ominous developments. Terrorist groups, backed by neighbouring states that have pledged to obliterate Israel and wipe it off the face of the earth, appear to be close to having weapons that threaten the security of most of Israel, including Tel Aviv, its major financial centre.

I accept that Israel is bombing Lebanon, and let me make it clear that I want that to stop. However, the House must recognise that it would stop immediately if Hezbollah released the kidnapped soldiers and stopped the rocket attacks. That must be recognised in any discussion about proportionality.

Mr. Love: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Wright: I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, but I want to press on, as I know that other hon. Members want to speak.

It has been a fast-moving and dramatic year. There have been genuine prospects for peace in the middle east since the Israeli elections; indeed, I secured an Adjournment debate on that subject a few weeks ago. Despite the election of Hamas, there were encouraging signs that a two-state solution was moving closer. Mahmoud Abbas remained as Palestinian President and attempted to implement a civilising and moderate policy for the Palestinians. At the end of May, for example, he proposed an 18-point peace plan based on positions agreed by Palestinians in Israeli jails. That plan implicitly recognised Israel and supported the establishment of a Palestinian state in territory occupied by Israel in 1967. Abbas was prepared to put that 18-point plan to the Palestinian people in a referendum, and Hamas signed it at the end of May.

Let us be clear that the document is not a miraculous panacea for either side. Although there is implicit recognition of Israel, it is arguably so implicit as to be almost imperceptible. That point was stressed by two of the signatories, Abdel Kheleq Natsche from Hamas, and Bassam al-Sa’adi from Islamic Jihad, who declared:

In other ways, the document falls short of what the UK and other members of the international community want—an end to terrorism and a commitment to honouring existing international agreements. Although it is far from perfect, in terms of perception it represents a significant and symbolic move towards an acceptance, albeit implicit rather than explicit, of a peaceful two-state solution based on bilateral negotiation and future co-operation.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Wright: I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, but I want to press on.

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In a meeting in the House only last month, the Israeli Prime Minister told hon. Members that he would pursue diplomatic negotiations and aimed to begin negotiation with President Abbas before embarking on his plans for withdrawal from the west bank. From a wider perspective, in April this year President Bush welcomed Prime Minister Siniora to the White House and proclaimed that Lebanon

Those small steps towards peace and wider regional stability and prosperity were not in the interests of terrorist organisations, which thrive on chaos and fear. Their power derives from derailing negotiations and causing turbulence and violence.

I have no doubt that Hezbollah kidnapped the Israeli soldier in a deliberate attempt to stop any progress in the peace process, and to escalate violence and so increase and consolidate its power. In so doing, it has taken the world’s attention away from Iran’s attempts to secure nuclear weapons—a prospect that would have immensely harmful repercussions for the stability of the wider regional and global theatres. We cannot conclude that Iran directly ordered the attacks and kidnappings against Israeli targets—that would be a crude assessment—but there is a strong and co-ordinated web of influence between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, and that relationship has been nurtured over the past few decades.

Hezbollah was created by the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war, and since then it has received training and weaponry and technical expertise from Tehran. Iran is Hezbollah’s main sponsor, donating an average of $100 million to $200 million a year. As was said earlier, Hezbollah has deliberately entwined itself into civilian life in Lebanon. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) pointed out, missiles and military equipment are stored in densely populated areas.

That is the context of the current crisis. Israel has a wish—a legitimate one, in my opinion—to try to destroy Hezbollah’s military capability to minimise the risks to its citizens and to mitigate, as much as possible, the existential threat to itself. Israel also has a right, which I do not think anybody in the House or elsewhere could dispute, to defend its borders. However, that task is made immeasurably more difficult by the deliberate intention of Hezbollah to intertwine its military capability into civilian life in Lebanon. This tactic is cowardly, but I urge restraint on Israel.

The loss of life, the injury and the impact upon the basic humanitarian situation in Lebanon have been truly horrendous. Israel must show restraint and try to ensure that its legitimate aim of destroying the military wing of Hezbollah does not coincide with or cause the destruction of the infrastructure of normal Lebanese life. Such a move would help breed even more of a culture of hatred and disaffection in the region, and would result in the evaporation of support from actors such as the G8 and Saudi Arabia.

Diplomatic pressure for a ceasefire and thereafter a negotiated two-state structure are the only solutions,
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both in the short term and taking a longer perspective. I fully support the Government in their stance on the matter and their ability to try and get all parties to the negotiating table, but I accept that influence on Hezbollah is limited. The world must be firm that any of those short green shoots of peace which we have seen in recent months in the region are not trampled upon and destroyed for ever by extremist and aggressive states and terrorist organisations.

4.56 pm

Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): I shall do my best to keep to three minutes. I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) said and I do not wish to repeat it. I thought it was a fine speech.

I declare my interest. I am the chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel. This will not be a balanced speech because I do not think I should take the time to balance it as I would otherwise like. When hostages are taken and still held, I find it difficult to be balanced. The Foreign Secretary was absolutely right in saying that the crisis could be brought speedily to an end by the hostages being released and by the firing of the rockets being stopped.

I shall make four points. First, some people say that the occupation by the Israelis is the problem. Well, if that were the case, when Israel withdrew from Gaza they could have expected some benefit from it, but instead what they got was a rain of rockets coming out of Gaza. That withdrawal from Gaza was heavily objected to by many people in Israel, and now the reaction in Israel by the opponents of withdrawal from Gaza is, “Look, we were right. We should never have withdrawn from Gaza in the first place.” We do not want to send the wrong message to Israel by allowing rockets to continue to rain down on Israel from the areas that it releases.

Secondly, people are calling on Israel to be proportionate and restrained. Yes, of course it must be proportionate and restrained, but what do we expect the Israelis to do? Do we expect them to leave open the route to restock Hezbollah’s rockets? Do we expect them to negotiate with kidnappers and thus to create more kidnappers? Do we expect them to let out of jail the people who have been murdering their neighbours? We call on Israel to show restraint, of course, but Israel over many years has been showing restraint in the face of those rockets. A couple of weeks ago I was in Kandahar and had to spend two hours in a concrete air raid shelter because of the fear of rockets coming in from the Taliban. To be honest, it turned out to be almost a bit of a game. But in Israel it is happening night after night, and the Israelis could see that going on time after time and never stopping.

Thirdly, the Iranians are talking about their nuclear weapons. We cannot just ignore what the Iranian President says about wanting to wipe Israel off the face of the map. We cannot pretend from our western perspective that he never said it or that he was joking. I believe that he meant it. The way that he is working, through Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah, is something of which we need to be very scared.

My final point echoes a comment by the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
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(Mr. Moore). It is worrying that 80 per cent. of Palestinians are living below the poverty line. In the long term, the only solution to the problem is dramatically to regenerate the economies of Palestine and Lebanon. One can of course argue that that will not be achieved by destroying all the infrastructure. Equally, however, it will not be achieved if the security situation there is such that they are free to launch rockets and to intimidate Israel, their democratic, rule-of-law neighbour.

I will not have changed many minds, but at least I have been brief.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The three-minute limit will apply to the next 10 speeches.

5 pm

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): I, too, will not be balanced because of the limited time available.

I absolutely accept that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister are acting in good faith. I am sorry that the Foreign Secretary cannot be here to hear that. However, I profoundly disagree with their judgment on this issue. I do not feel that the Prime Minister’s responses to questions yesterday and following the G8 summit demonstrated an even-handed approach, and many of my constituents have contacted me to say the same. That particularly applies to the issue of proportionality by the Israelis. It is meaningless for the Government to keep saying that they call on the Israelis to exercise restraint and ask them to be proportionate and to act within international law, but then fail pointedly to answer the question of whether they think that the current action is proportionate or within international law.

The blitzkrieg—there is no other way of describing it—that has been unleashed on Lebanon beggars belief. Merely talking about numbers of missiles on either side does not get across the inequity of the situation. Israel is the fourth largest military power in the world. Its missiles and weapons are of a different order of magnitude to the weapons ranged against it. That is not to excuse the people attacking the Israelis; I decry those attacks too. However, it is out of all proportion to launch that indiscriminate blitzkrieg on Lebanon against civilian targets, which has already resulted in 359 deaths, including 294 civilians, of whom a third were children. Some 1,000 people have been wounded and 500,000 displaced. Now that the foreign civilians have been evacuated, there is a fear that the bombing will increase still further. The Israeli defence force said today that it believes that it has got rid of half of Hezbollah’s military capability. Does that mean that there are to be another 359 deaths and another 500,000 displaced before it has achieved its aims and stops what it is doing?

If the Government are to have credibility, they must be seen to be even-handed and to uphold international law and say that the Israeli action is disproportionate. Many people in Israel are prepared to say that their Government are acting disproportionately, so why will not this Government do so?

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I should like to draw attention to the action in Palestine, where Gaza is under siege. The whole civilian population—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I call Mr. John Bercow.

5.3 pm

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey). I endorse the gracious tribute that the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) paid to the newly elected hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Davies), who made a passionate, decent and admirable speech of which he should be proud.

Of course, there is terrible violence and an enormous crisis in the middle east, and that is the immediate pretext for today’s debate. However, there are other crises elsewhere, and I would like to focus briefly on a couple of them.

First, there is the running sore and international shame of what continues to take place in Darfur. So far, more than a third of a million people have lost their lives and 2 million people have been displaced—250,000 have been displaced in 2006 alone. The crisis has erupted over the border into Chad. Foot-stamping by the Sudanese Government has already prevented a vital deployment of troops by the United Nations to Darfur. It cannot be allowed, through procrastination, delay and objection, to prevent that necessary deployment again. I appeal to the Minister for the Middle East to advise the House today of what the Government are doing in response to the cri de coeur from the African Union, the aid agencies and others to press the matter, bring it before the United Nations Security Council and try to ensure that, sooner rather than later, there is a vote.

Secondly, there is the long-running crisis—the slow-burn genocide, as I would characterise it—in Burma. Early-day motion 902 has attracted the signatures of 312 hon. Members who are united in calling for United Nations Security Council action. We need a resolution. We have support from European states and we enjoy the backing of the United States. We need the British Government and others to exert diplomatic muscle to exhort African states such as Ghana, Tanzania and Congo-Brazzaville to secure support for a discussion, with the consequence—I hope—of a resolution, binding or otherwise, to try to insist that the regime, which has an appalling human rights record, is brought to book.

Those two important crises need to be tackled. There are many others but the United Nations must now decide what it is to be in future: a vehicle for necessary change in the world or simply an instrument of passive acceptance of an unsatisfactory status quo. Let it be the former, not the latter.

5.6 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): When one becomes involved in issues such as those in the middle east and develops friendships there, it is easy to see the suffering of only one side. It is easy to rationalise the indefensible and dehumanise the other side. I hope that being aware of that will stop me ever rationalising or excusing rocket attacks, or saying that
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they are okay if they are provoked or—to use that ever-so-polite word—“proportionate”. If I apply those sentiments to rocket attacks—I do without qualification—I also say that, when air strikes kill 300 people and displace 500,000, when 100 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in the past few weeks and when water and electricity supplies are cut to homes and hospitals in one of the poorest and most densely populated places on earth, people should not rationalise that or say that, somehow, it is okay.

I never thought that Ministers in the Government whom I support, who rightly prefix everything that they say with a demand for an immediate and unconditional end to rocket attacks, would find it so difficult to call for an immediate ceasefire by both sides. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East that, unless the Government change their description of events, their credibility in the outside world will take a knock and the charge of double standards will have considerable force.

The Prime Minister told us that we needed to examine the underlying causes and I agree with that. There is no time to consider most of them, so I shall mention only a couple. The Prime Minister singled out the kidnappings of Corporal Shalit in Gaza in a raid on 25 June and two soldiers in Lebanon on 12 July. He said that we must call for their immediate and unconditional release and I agree. However, if we say that, what about the families of the 741 Palestinian prisoners whom Israeli troops abducted and who are still held without trial in Israeli jails? Corporal Shalit is 19 years old; 282 of Palestinian prisoners are under 18. What do we say to Palestinians when the unjustifiable capture of one Israeli causes an international incident but that of Palestinians does not? Can we honestly say that there is no connection between that and the sense of hopelessness that breeds terrorism? There is a connection, and we ignore it at our peril.

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