UN Resolution 1701

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 3 July 2007.

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Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 2:30, 3 July 2007

What steps the Government are taking to support the enforcement of UN Security Council resolution 1701, with particular reference to its call for the release of abducted Israeli soldiers.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

May I, Mr. Speaker, add my best wishes to you on your birthday?

Full implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1701 remains a high priority for the Government. We continue to call for the unconditional and immediate release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah on 12 July 2006, almost a year ago. The UN facilitator appointed by the Secretary-General leads on negotiations to secure their release. The UN has the United Kingdom's full support as it takes this important work forward.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

As the Minister told the House, it is nearly a year since those two Israeli soldiers were captured. He will be aware that last week the UN-Lebanon independent border assessment team revealed that the borders between Lebanon and Syria have been opened to the smuggling of weapons and goods, which is in violation of resolution 1701. Will he tell the House what discussions the Government have had with other Security Council members and with Syria to stop the illegal flow of these weapons to Hezbollah and to Palestinian terrorist organisations in Lebanon?

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The hon. Gentleman is right; this is a very serious situation and one which the United Nations has been trying to address. I went to the Israeli border on the Lebanese side, south of the Litani river, to speak with General Graziano, who is running UNIFIL—the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon—down there. He told me that he was pretty confident that there is not a large amount of smuggling coming over the Syrian border in that part of Lebanon, but he could not give those guarantees for the northern part of Lebanon. That is a very long and very porous border, as the hon. Gentleman says. We have been urging the Syrians, and everyone else, to turn the rhetoric about wanting stability in Lebanon and in the middle east into reality by doing their best to promote peace in that area and not to support rejectionist groups and Hezbollah, paid for by Iran, that are intent on causing destruction and mayhem.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough

Happy birthday, Mr. Speaker. It is nice to see one old face among such an excellent new team.

One of the features of resolution 1701 was a commitment for Israel to publish maps of any landmines in the Lebanon. There are still landmines there. What action could the UK, with its expertise in de-mining, take to assist with the removal of landmines, which are causing such havoc in Lebanon?

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I will not comment on the "old" adjective.

We are worried about the levels of unexploded ordnance throughout southern Lebanon and we have committed a total of £2.8 million to clearing unexploded ordinance in the area. We have also asked the Government of Israel to hand over all relevant maps, which could help us locate unexploded ordnance—whether mines or the configuration of shells that were fired by artillery from Israel. I am afraid that, so far, we have not had that co-operation, although we have had promises of it.

Photo of Brooks Newmark Brooks Newmark Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Syrians have said that they want to play a constructive role in bringing about peace in the region. What pressure is being brought to bear on the Syrian Government, given their relationship with Hezbollah, to ensure the release of the two Israeli soldiers?

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

We certainly have pressed—and will continue to press—the Syrian Government to play their part in trying to bring peace to the Lebanon and to secure the release of the Israeli soldiers. I must admit to the hon. Gentleman that we have not made a great deal of progress, but at least talks have begun. My right hon. Friend Margaret Beckett, the former Foreign Secretary, met Foreign Minister Mouallem of Syria in the margins of a recent conference and pressed him in order to try to discover Syria's attitude to its continuing support of Palestinian rejectionist groups and its apparent lack of co-operation in trying to find and return the Israeli soldiers. We would very much like an answer from Syria about that.

We want good relationships with Syria. We understand the important part that it could play in bringing peace to the middle east. So far, its reaction has not been helpful but we will urge the Syrian Government to change their mind about that and play their part in co-operating to bring peace to the region and ensure the return of the soldiers.