OPT - Howells: situation in Gaza strip

In response to a question in the House of Commons on Monday 18 June, about the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the situation in the Gaza strip, Dr Kim Howells, Minister for the Middle East, said:

'We are deeply concerned about the recent violence and the humanitarian situation in the Gaza strip. The violence we have seen has been completely unacceptable, with summary executions, attacks against hospitals and the cruel treatment of captives. Once again, extremists carrying guns have prevented progress, against the wishes of the majority, who seek a peaceful two-state solution.

'Our immediate concern is the humanitarian situation in Gaza. We fully support the statement of the Quartet and efforts to meet the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians. In that regard, we welcome Israel's decision to facilitate humanitarian access and ensure the provision of basic services. We continue to call on all parties to respect the human rights of those in Gaza and ensure the safety and security of international workers.

'It is also important, however, that extremists are not allowed to derail the political process. The international community is united in its desire to continue moving the peace process forward. The Foreign Secretary spoke to President Abbas on 14 June, as well as US Secretary Rice and the Egyptian, Omani and Qatari Foreign Ministers. The Foreign Secretary is discussing the situation with her European counterparts at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Luxembourg today, where they will also discuss the situation with the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni. Prime Minister Olmert is currently in Washington and we look forward to discussions at the UN Security Council on Wednesday.

'We welcome the Arab League's engagement at its meeting on Friday. The Arab world has a key role to play in supporting President Abbas's efforts to restore order to the occupied Palestinian territories. We also welcome Egypt and Saudi Arabia's efforts to promote dialogue.

'The emergency Government, who were sworn in on 17 June, have our full support. We will continue to work with all those, including President Abbas, who are dedicated to achieving a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The emergency Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, has said that his priorities are restoring security and improving the economic and humanitarian situation, and we share those goals.

'I would like to reiterate the Government's commitment to finding a solution that will result in a comprehensive and lasting peace, with two states, Palestine and Israel, living side by side in peace and security.

'Our thoughts remain with Alan Johnston. We continue to call for his immediate release and welcome the efforts being taken towards that goal'.