» Monday, July 24, 2006


Asked if the Government was now in favour of a ceasefire in Lebanon, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said as the Prime Minister said in his G8 statement to the Commons last Tuesday, quote: "of course we all want violence to stop and stop immediately, but we recognise that the only realistic way to achieve such a ceasefire is to address the underlying reasons why this violence has broken out." That has been the core element of the Government’s approach since the beginning of the conflict. It was also the core element of the G8 statement issued last Monday afternoon which said that Israel must show utter restraint. Equally the attacks on Israel must also stop. All the way through we had wanted both sides to stop.

The reality today was that rockets were still going into Israel, just as Israel was still carrying out its operations. That was why we set out in the G8 statement a plan, a plan which was beginning to take shape and which on the one hand would give Israel the assurance it needed on security and on the other hand would result in Israel stopping its actions. The assurance came in the form of a stabilisation force which now seemed to have the support of Israel and the US as well as the support of the rest of the G8. It was also important that all sides lived up to their commitments, that those in Lebanon lived up to UN resolution 1559 which said not only that there mustn’t be attacks on Israel but that militias must be disarmed and that secondly those in Gaza must live up to the Road Map which said again that there shouldn’t be attacks on Israel and that militias shouldn’t be used to attack Israel.

What was important was there was now a process in place, Condoleezza Rice was in the region today, the Core group would meet on Wednesday, and we would meet President Bush on Friday. Although we haven’t been jumping up and down in public, people could take it that we had been actively involved in an intense period of diplomatic activity, including the Prime Minister, to get to where we were. Questioned further about out position on a ceasefire, the PMOS said that as he had said repeatedly last week, we weren’t in favour of a unilateral ceasefire. A unilateral ceasefire wouldn’t work. We should go back to where this problem started, it started with attacks from Hezbollah and Hamas, in which soldiers were killed. The basic problem remained that UN resolution 1559 said that Lebanon must not be used as a base to attack Israel. Hezbollah had ignored that.

The Road Map said that there should be security for Israel once it got out of Gaza, Israel got out of Gaza but attacks continued. That was the source of the problem. Now equally we wanted to see the Israeli operation end but what was important was that we got a plan which meant that both sides stopped. That had been the core of our position right from the start. The bottom line was that calls for unilateral ceasefire wouldn’t work and we had been clear about that from the beginning. The core problem was how to give Israel the assurance which 1559 had tried to do, as had the roadmap, that if it got out of Lebanon it won’t be attacked from Lebanon and that if got out of Gaza it wouldn’t be attacked from Gaza, that was the core problem. That was why along with the rest of the G8 we came up with a stabilisation force which Israel had now said it accepted as a possible basis for moving forward. That was why we had been so emphatic that Hamas stopped condoning suicide bombings and must get onto the political track. That obviously had implications for Israel as well but the important thing was that a one-sided approach would not work here. That was what Kim Howells had been saying over the weekend too.

Asked if weren’t just catching up with US foreign policy now that they were calling for an immediate ceasefire, the PMOS referred journalists again to what the Prime Minister had said in the Commons on Tuesday: "of course we all want violence to stop and stop immediately" That was last Tuesday, so we were not catching up with anybody here. Like the US however we believed that simply calling for a unilateral ceasefire wouldn’t work, because the rocket attacks continued. You couldn’t take a one sided view of this and realistically hope to bring an end to the conflict, because that simply won’t work, it will simply start up again. You had to address the basic problem which was that Israel had got out of Gaza and Lebanon and the attacks continued. You had to produce a solution to that underlying problem.

Asked if the Prime Minister viewed what was happening in Gaza and Lebanon as part of the war on terror, the PMOS said that the first thing to say was that Prime Minister felt deeply about civilian casualties. That was why he had signed up to the G8 statement which said explicitly that Israel should try to avoid civilian casualties. That was why he had called for Hezbollah and Hamas to stop their attacks because there were civilian casualties on the Israeli side as well. Equally however as he said in the Commons on both Tuesday and Wednesday he saw this as part of a broader picture involving Iran and Syria. The UN resolution 1559 was quite explicit when it said that all armed militias in Lebanon should be disarmed. That had not happened. You had a situation in which a small minority in Lebanon was defying the wishes of the democratic government in Lebanon. You had a situation in which Hamas might have been elected but wasn’t abiding by democratic standards, in that it was not abiding by the commitments of the Road Map. Those were the questions you had to address.

Asked why Kim Howells had been sent to the Middle East instead of the Foreign Secretary, the PMOS said that Margaret Beckett had been involved all last week, talking to her opposite numbers in the region and elsewhere, talking to the Americans and others as well. Therefore Kim Howells went to represent us in the region. The Prime Minister had also been working the phones. Sometimes it was better to do these things in private and that was what was happening.

Asked if the UK would be contributing to a possible stabilisation force, the PMOS said that discussions as to the nature of the stabilisation force were still going on but in terms of the tradition in this area, others had usually provided forces rather than us.

Asked if the Prime Minister believed that Israel’s reaction had been proportionate, the PMOS said that right way through we had said that it should be proportionate, right the way through we had said, including in the G8 statement that they should avoid civilian casualties. Equally right the way through we had said that we wee not going to give a running commentary on the Israel operation. That would not be helpful to the wider objective of putting in place the conditions, acceptable to both sides, that were necessary to bring this conflict to an end as quickly as possible. As the Prime Minister had said last Tuesday we want the violence to stop, and stop immediately, but that wouldn’t happen unless you addressed both sides.

Put to him that the Prime Minister had seemed quite happy to comment on conflicts on the past, and asked why he wasn’t happy to comment on the current situation, the PMOS said that you had to judge what helped in particular circumstances. In these circumstances where you had Israel attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, where there was a situation where Hezbollah was in flagrant disregard of a UN resolution and Hamas wasn’t living up to the commitments of the Road Map, the best way forward was to get a situation in which those commitments were being lived up to and therefore you judged your activity accordingly. The call for a unilateral ceasefire wouldn’t do that. The PMOS asked if anybody had heard the leader of Hezbollah say anything that suggested that Hezbollah was at this stage ready to stop its campaign. Unfortunately the situation was quite the reverse. Asked if there were any contacts between the UK and Hezbollah, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had said in the Commons on Wednesday, our influence with Hezbollah was somewhat limited. Equally we were keeping very close touch with countries in the region which did have an influence. That was partly why the Core Group meeting on Wednesday would be important.

Put to him that if we had been calling for a ceasefire all last week then Condoleezza Rice wasn’t saying anything new, the PMOS said that the American position reflected the G8 position which was that there should be a stop to the conflict as quickly as possible. That was only likely to happen if you reached conditions which gave reassurance on all sides. That had been the position throughout.

Asked if thought that Israel should continue its bombing campaign in Lebanon until Hezbollah returned the captures soldiers, the PMOS said that the reality was that Israel had been attacked and responded to that attack. Other than standing and saying "well this should all stop", what could you do to give Israel assurances that would mean that there was a stop on both sides? That was what we were about, that was why Condoleezza Rice’s mission was important and that was why the Core Group were meeting. We could try and put in place, as a result in part of the intense efforts that we had been making in the last week, a plan which addressed the core issues, and get agreement on that plan, with a consensus behind it. We are nearer to that now then we were this time last week.

Asked if we planned to have high level, face-to-face meetings with the Syrian and Iranian governments, the PMOS said that we were in touch with governments who were in touch with Syria and Iran and those linkages were there. The important thing was not talking for the sake of talking. The important thing was getting a plan together that actually delivered a basis for long-term peace. That was what we were working on and that was what we would continue to work on. Put to him that given that it was well known that the Syrians and Iranians were important players in this, that unless we spoke to them face-to-face we would never going to get an agreement, the PMOS said that equally there was not point talking to them unless they were in the market to actually deliver and we had to assess that. Asked if we were taking Syria’s offer to name Al Qaeda cells in Lebanon seriously, the PMOS said that he was not going to comment on what other governments said.

Asked for more detail on the plans to stop the conflict, the PMOS said that the stabilisation force which the Prime Minister had negotiated as part of the G8 statement was obviously gaining momentum. We had to see how that would work. We also had to find a way back to the Road Map in Gaza and deal with the issue of Israeli prisoners and deal with the other issues on the Israeli side and get back to a process in which 1559 went from being a piece of paper to being a reality on the ground in Lebanon. These were all kinds of issues that had to be addressed.

Asked about Kim Howell’s remarks over the weekend, the PMOS said that despite the selective reporting of his comments, what Kim Howells had said repeatedly was that calls for a unilateral ceasefire wouldn’t work, he repeatedly said that we had to address all the issues including the attacks from Lebanon and the problem of suicide bombers in Hamas. He had also expressed concern about civilian casualties, concern which had been expressed in black and white in the G8 statement. Put to him that Kim Howells had also said that it was very hard to understand the Israeli tactics, the PMOS said that we had called repeatedly for utter restraint from Israel.

Asked if there might be a statement before the House before it rose, the PMOS said that we had had a debate last week and the Prime Minister had made a statement on the outcome of the G8 so we had reported to parliament already.

Briefing took place at 16:00 | Search for related news


  1. So this all started with Hezbollah rockets going into Israel? There’s no shortage of bollocks-merchants chanting that mantra, Blair included. Our beloved leader, as always, is relying on people having short memories. I remember Israeli phosphorous bombs falling on Beirut in the early 80’s, for instance. Some of them hit a hospital. I am not making this up and anyone who cared to check it will find that even Ronald Reagan, yes, Ronald Reagan condemned the Israeli actions. Although, like his successors he was prepared to turn a blind eye to the mass murder by Israel which went on for months before the phosphorous incidents. I am well aware that anyone can start to take the atrocities back into deep history. All I am saying is that the claim that Hizbollah, who came into existence to drive the Israelis out of Lebanon, which they did, started this. An insult to the intelligence of everyone, even by Downing Street standards.

    Comment by Geo — 24 Jul 2006 on 8:01 pm | Link
  2. "the underlying reasons why this violence has broken out."

    How about the Bush-Blair ‘approval’ of the conflict as a cause?

    Neither has been prepared to say "this is wrong and must stop"

    Neither has a shred of humanity left in their soul – greed, corruption and power have made them into the root of the very causes of evil that they claim to want to eradicate from the World.

    Comment by Roger Huffadine — 25 Jul 2006 on 9:13 am | Link
  3. Funny how the Israelis and George Bush’s puppy suddenly seem so keen on implementing UN resolutions, perhaps they could also try implementing one or two which deal with the creation of a Palestinian state on its own land.

    Comment by redrobbo — 25 Jul 2006 on 7:40 pm | Link
  4. It was nice of Condoleeza Rice to pay a surprise visit to Beirut yesterday. A fitting complement to the surprise Israeli bombing which preceded her.

    Comment by Mike — 26 Jul 2006 on 12:02 pm | Link
  5. The only reason Kindasleazy went to Beirut yesterday was to get a receipt for the recent consignments of US bombs and explosives shipped to Israel.

    Look people, let’s face it. This conflict may as well be America forces, or British forces for that matter, for all the difference it makes. We, the USA and Israel are all joined at the hip; anything Israel does we support, anything the USA does likewise, we refuse to condemn them, the bloody yanks supply Israel with the weapons with which they beat the Ragheads over the head, we know they’re doing it, we refuse to condemn them, it wouldn’t surprise me to find that the UK is also supplying ordinance to Israel too.

    But this is not about Lebanon. It’s ultimately about Iran and Syria. This conflict is not going to stop until either Iran, or Syria, or both, have been dragged into it. Not noticed how everything that happens seems to be somehow Irans fault? Not remember how the bloody Yanks have been camped out on Irans doorstep for the past year, telling lies about their "nuclear weapons" programmes? Just wait and see; the very fact that Hezbollah = Iran in every other breath is obvious enough.

    The scariest thing will be how China and Russia react if Iran does come into it. Don’t forget, they have both signed a defence treaty with Iran, and Russia has huge investments in Iran (including suppying anti-missile missile systems). WW3 anyone?

    Comment by SmokeNMirrors — 27 Jul 2006 on 9:13 am | Link

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