New Forest East

FOREIGN AFFAIRS – IRAQ & ISRAEL – 27 November 2003

[The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Jack Straw): … Iraq today, notwithstanding its difficult security situation, is a safer and better place than ever it was under the murderous Saddam.]

Dr Julian Lewis: On that very point, can the Foreign Secretary advise the House through which countries he believes foreign terrorists are getting into Iraq?

[Mr Straw: I discussed that matter with General Sanchez, General Lamb, other military advisers and others during my two days in Iraq. The borders of Iraq are huge and relatively porous, and even with the best policing, which Iraq does not have at present, some people would still come through. Of all the borders, the most probable route is through Syria. I accept that there is work to be done by the Syrian Government better to understand that their interests, as well as the interests of everybody else in the middle east, lie in clamping down on terrorism and on that element, which is adding to the disruption in Iraq.]

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[Mr Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): … I am a great supporter of Israel's right to exist. As a serving officer, I was in Aden in 1967, when the six-day war started and the British Government's immediate reaction was to support the Israelis. I was proud to be part of that, but what is going on now is not the way to proceed. However, the Palestinians are not helping. There is huge mistrust in Israel. A ship carrying aid was arrested by Israel, as it was carrying arms procured by the Palestinian Authority from Iraq. President Arafat's wife, Suha, said that, if she had a son, he would be a suicide bomber. How can a peace settlement be achieved against that sort of background?]

Dr Lewis: Is my hon. Friend aware of the fact that one of the principal suicide bombers' organisations – the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade – is organically linked to Yasser Arafat and is indeed a militant arm of Yasser Arafat's own organisation?

[Mr Ottaway: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. That is the problem. The latest reports in the past few weeks from Yasser Arafat show that he is perhaps beginning to appreciate that he has to do something about those links, but there is a long way to go.]

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[Mr Crispin Blunt (Reigate): I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South, and to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr Lewis) who intervened to point out that the al-Aqsa Brigades were intimately linked to Yasser Arafat, that that is not remotely surprising. Anyone who has visited a Palestinian refugee camp, as I did last year, will know that the al-Aqsa Brigades and their supporters represent, frankly, the mainstream of Palestinian opinion in those camps. As I say, that is not surprising in view of their experience as a people over the last 50 years.]

Dr Lewis: One problem is that many people friendly to Israel, such as myself, do not particularly admire the present Government of Israel, but have to ask themselves why that Government came to power. One of the answers is that the moderate Barak Israeli Government, who brought events to within a whisker of a two-state solution, were rejected primarily by Israel's Arab neighbours. That is probably the reason why the hard-liners came out on top in Israeli society.