Adjournment debate on the Middle East - Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Dermot Ahern T.D.,6 October 2004
I share the concerns which have been widely expressed about the continuing deterioration of the situation in the Middle East, both in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in Iraq.
I would like to begin by addressing the current violence in the Gaza Strip. The Government’s position on the Israel-Palestine Conflict has been one of consistent support for a peaceful solution. Together with our EU partners, we are working for a negotiated end to the conflict leading to two states, Israel and Palestine, living at peace within secure and recognised borders.
I issued a statement on Monday in which I expressed the Government’s great concern at the deaths and injuries caused in the current upsurge of violence in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel. Over eighty people have been killed, many of them civilians, including children, and dozens more injured during the major Israeli military incursion into the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza. This incursion is stated to be in response to continuing rocket attacks by Palestinian groups into southern Israel which resulted in the death of two young children last week.
I unequivocally condemn the terrorist attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian groups which have taken place recently, including and in particular the killing of the young children, and demand their immediate end. I also call on the Palestinian Authority to act, to the fullest extent of its powers, to bring about a total ceasefire and put an end to such terrorist outrages.
I would strongly urge the Israeli authorities to take every precaution to avoid causing civilian casualties and to conduct operations in full conformity with the obligations of international humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. We all recognise Israel’s right and duty to protect its own citizens, but I am particularly concerned at the civilian casualties on the Palestinian side, including the many children killed or wounded, and the disproportionate force deployed by the Israeli Defense Forces, including the bulldozing of Palestinian homes and economic infrastructure. I strongly support Kofi Annan’s call for an end to the incursions.
It is the Government’s longstanding position that the ongoing cycle of violence will not lead to a resolution of the conflict. Instead, it will only postpone the day when an Israeli state and a Palestinian state can live side by side in peace and security. There is no substitute for political negotiations between the parties to the conflict leading to a lasting political settlement.
I call on both parties to work for an immediate ceasefire as a prelude to renewed political contacts.
I am certain everyone in this House shares the Deputy’s concern about the ongoing hostage situation in Iraq. I call upon all those holding hostages to release them immediately and unconditionally.
This situation has been brought closer to home by the distressing case of Kenneth Bigley. We have all been extremely moved by the plight of his family and by their determination to do everything they can to secure his release.
It has been this determination that has won support from eminent citizens around the world, from leading Arab figures and from thousands of people in Ireland, the UK and far beyond.
When the Government learned that Mr. Bigley’s mother Elizabeth was born in Dublin, my predecessor, Minister Cowen, immediately spoke with the British Foreign Secretary and informed him of the Irish interest in the case.
As the Deputy is aware, the Taoiseach issued an appeal to the Al Jazeera network the next day, in which he appealed for Mr Bigley’s release.
The Taoiseach also instructed the Irish Ambassador in London to communicate the sympathy and support of the President, the Government and the Irish people to the Bigley family.
In the intervening period, we have been very actively monitoring the case. On my appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs last week, I immediately reviewed the case with my senior officials to see how Irish influence could best be brought to bear. Following on from this, we had contacts with a number of authorities in the region. This included my discussing the Bigley case with the Jordanian Foreign Minister on Saturday morning, and with the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amre Moussa, yesterday morning. We are, of course, remaining in close touch with these contacts.
Yesterday afternoon, on my instructions, a passport was issued to Kenneth Bigley in order to help convince his kidnappers of his Irish citizenship and in the hope that it will contribute to the efforts to secure his release. I was very happy to respond positively to the request from Kenneth’s family for an Irish passport.
We do not know at this stage what might persuade Kenneth Bigley’s kidnappers to release him. The Government sincerely hopes that its own continuing efforts will add constructively to the efforts of the Bigley family, the Jordanian and other Arab authorities, the British Government and the many other governments and leaders throughout the world who have joined in appealing for his release. These efforts have been complemented by the huge volume of concern and support of Irish people, including other members of this House.
For reasons which I am sure Deputies will appreciate, I do not intend to comment further on this sensitive issue, other than to reiterate the hope that Mr Bigley will soon be reunited safely with his family.