Miliband talks tough on Israel

A scene of devastation in Gaza today
A scene of devastation in Gaza today

By Ian Dunt and Matt Champion

Foreign secretary David Miliband has used tough language against Israel in his statement to parliament on the conflict in the Middle East.

"As a beacon of democracy in the region Israel's best defense. is compliance with humanitarian law," Mr Miliband said.

The foreign secretary also expressed concern about allegations from aid agencies about Israel's behaviour in the war zone.

Describing the allegations, specifically from the International Committee of the Red Cross as "extremely serious" and said they "must be investigated".

In a sign of Foreign Office exasperation at the war, he also has unusually strong comments ready for America's behaviour during the conflict.

Asked what he thought of America's refusal to condemn the decision by both parties to ignore a UN security council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, Mr Miliband said: "We would have much preferred to see US support for the resolution."

The foreign secretary also told parliament it was imperative to push for peace despite the ongoing conflict.

"The Arab peace initiative [which ensures normalisation of relations with Israel among Arab states] provides the right regional vision for progress," he said.

"These words can seem worthless. It is the war which pushes them out of reach.

"Peace benefits Israelis and Palestinians. War kills both."

In a session marked primarily by cross-party agreement, shadow foreign secretary William Hague said: "We concur with his description.

"We hope the government will take every opportunity to urge the next US administration to place the Middle East peace process among its top priorities."

Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: "This Israeli action may hurt Hamas militarily but it will strengthen them politically."

Mr Miliband confirmed to the House that British munitions had not been used by the Israeli army during the violence.

The conflict in the Gaza Strip has now entered its third week.

Today, Israeli fighter jets levelled a mother and baby clinic in the Gaza Strip, with patients and workers given just 15 minutes to evacuate.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of medical equipment was destroyed by the strike, which took place on Saturday night in Gaza City.

Christian Aid, whose partner agency Near East Council of Churches ran the clinic, told that the Israeli army has given no reason for the attack.

A spokesperson said that the owners of the two-storey building received a telephone call from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to evacuate within 15 minutes, whereupon an F16 jet fired a warning shot then a direct missile hit which destroyed the building.

The Near East Council of Churches has been running Christian Aid-supported projects in Gaza for more than 20 years, while the European Union has been a prominent donor in the last decade.

Speaking as the death-toll from ongoing Israeli military action in Gaza surpasses 900, Constantine Dabbagh, the executive director of the council, called on the world to "wake up and stop this".

"They need to wake up and end the siege and the occupation," she said. "Then there will be some time for peace and reconciliation.

"Otherwise, this bloody atmosphere will continue. The responsibility of the superpowers, including the US and Britain, is to stop these horrors.

"If it does not we will all encounter more miserable conditions in the future, God forbid."

Christian Aid's Janet Symes, the charity's head of Middle East Region, said she had visited the clinic in question, which The clinic provided essential free primary health care to the Gazan community, including mother and child clinics, neo-natal care, family planning, last year.

"It was standing room only as so many mothers had brought their babies and small children for check ups or treatment," she said.

"The doctors were telling me how they'd increased their hours but still needed more staff to be able to cope with the huge numbers of patients. Now the whole clinic lies in ruins. All the equipment is destroyed.

"This just underlines how critical an immediate ceasefire is to stop this destruction."

On Monday Israel deployed reservists in Gaza as the conflict showed no signs of ending as it reached its 17th day.

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert says Israel will not withdraw until it has achieved its stated aims of ending Hamas rocket-fire; despite a UN security council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire.


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