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Rules on weapons exports to Israel to be tightened

17 April 2002

Rules on weapons exports to Israel are to be tightened after British-made military vehicles were spotted attacking Palestinian villages in the occupied territories, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said last night.

He condemned Israel's "unsatisfactory" response to complaints by the British Government over the incident, which involved 40-year-old Centurion tanks converted into armoured personnel carriers.

The Foreign Office said the Government would now take a more "rigorous" approach to arms-export applications by disregarding Israeli promises not to use British weapons for internal suppression or external aggression. But calls from left-wing Labour MPs for all arms exports to Israel to be banned have been rejected.

Mr Straw told MPs: "We also have questions about other possible breaches of the assurances with regard to equipment supplied under previous administrations, which we are taking up with the Israeli authorities."

Opening a Commons debate on the Middle East crisis, the Foreign Secretary spelt out Britain's formula for breaking the cycle of "dreadful violence". He said the first priority had to be to broker a ceasefire, followed by a diplomatic solution based on both sides accepting the existence of "viable, secure, territorially sovereign and democratic states of Israel and Palestine".

Israel had to withdraw from the occupied territories and suspend its programme of developing Jewish settlements in the area, while Arab leaders should make strong efforts to curb terror attacks and tackle the Palestinian refugee crisis.

Mr Straw condemned the suicide bombings in Israel and the resulting onslaught on Palestinian refugee camps, and added: "Both sides must now step back and start talking."

The Foreign Secretary said he was "profoundly concerned at the scenes of widespread destruction of densely populated refugee camps".

Gerald Kaufman, the former Labour minister, said Israel had become a "ghetto, an international pariah" because of its actions under the leadership of Ariel Sharon. He said: "It is time to remind Sharon that the Star of David belongs to all Jews and not to his repulsive government. His actions are staining the Star of David with blood."

Ben Bradshaw, a Foreign Office minister, said Israel's incursion into the West Bank had set back the war on terrorism launched after 11 September.

The shadow Foreign Secretary, Michael Ancram, called for an even-handed government response to the bloodshed. He said: "We must be unequivocally clear in our condemnation of acts of terrorism and the need to eradicate them at their roots. But equally we must never dilute our criticism of military action of Israel which oversteps the mark or the violation of human rights or the humiliation and harassment of innocent citizens."

Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said Israel had faced "intolerable" provocation but its response had damaged not just its credentials as a democracy but also the hopes of a lasting settlement.

Nigel Morris
Published in the Independent © 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

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