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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 09:15 GMT 10:15 UK
'No military solution' to Mid-East crisis
Israeli troops use hammer to enter house in Bethlehem
Israel hopes to pre-empt new suicide attacks
Israeli action in the West Bank can not be excused as being part of the global "war on terrorism", UK foreign secretary Jack Straw has warned.

Mr Straw also ruled out the possibility of an imminent US attack on Iraq, which some commentators fear would fuel the escalating crisis in the Middle East.


I don't think for a second there is going to be an imminent US attack on Iraq

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw

The foreign secretary was speaking as gun battles raged between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Ramallah.

Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's Today programme Israel had "reached a position of almost complete despair" because of Palestinian suicide bombings.

But asked if that meant he regarded prime minister Arial Sharon's decision to send tanks into the West Bank as a legitimate part of the "war against terrorism", Mr Straw said: "No."

'No military solution'

He said the Palestinian suicide bombings were "at the heart of this spiral of violence and is driving the Israeli government's position".

But at the same time, he wanted to see a withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank.

He called on both sides to engage in peace talks through US special envoy Anthony Zinni.

"There can be no military solution to this desperate situation which the Israelis and the Palestinians find themselves," Mr Straw told Today.

Iraq

Mr Straw said US President George Bush's public support for a Palestinian state meant there was a closer agreement about "the end state of negotiations than there had been in 20 years".

But, he added, there was "no magic wand" to bring an end to hostilities.

He also firmly rejected suggestions that the US was poised to attack Iraq over its refusal to comply with UN weapons inspectors.

"I don't think for a second there is going to be an imminent US attack on Iraq," Mr Straw said.

Bush meeting

He said the Bush administration had a track record for acting with caution and would not launch military strike against Iraq without "wide consultation" with its allies.

Mr Straw said he was investigating reports that Israeli soldiers had opened fire on a group of British demonstrators at the weekend.

Meanwhile, Downing Street has reportedly rejected calls from backbench Labour MPs for an emergency debate on the situation in the Middle East, ahead of Prime Minister Tony Blair's meeting with President Bush at the weekend.

Mr Blair is reportedly planning to discuss the possibility of military action against Iraq.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
"We want to see a withdrawal of Israeli troops from Ramallah"
See also:

02 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair 'rejects call for Mid-East debate'
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Gun battles rage in Bethlehem
25 Mar 02 | Middle East
Profile: Jibril Rajoub
01 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israeli papers demand clearer goals
01 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Israel 'dragging Mid-East into war'
31 Mar 02 | Media reports
Arab press rails at Sharon
30 Mar 02 | Middle East
Sharon's strong-arm tactic
01 Apr 02 | Middle East
Washington accuses Syria of terror role
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
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