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Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
Sharon 'a war criminal' says MP
Israeli tanks
Israeli tanks in action in Ramallah on the West Bank
Israeli leader Ariel Sharon has been branded a "war criminal" and a "fool" by former Labour minister Gerald Kaufman.

In a blistering attack, the veteran MP, who is Jewish, said Mr Sharon had reduced his country to an "international pariah" whose actions were staining the Star of David with blood.


Sharon has made it impossible for the Americans to take action against Iraq

Gerald Kaufman, former Labour minister
Mr Kaufman was speaking in a Commons debate on the crisis in the Middle East in which he also condemned Palestinian suicide bombers as "mass murderers".

Earlier MPs had heard Foreign Secretary Jack Straw say that the prospect of peace in the Middle East was "hanging by a thread".

In his speech Mr Kaufman said: "Sharon has ordered his troops to use methods of barbarism against the Palestinians.

"It is time to remind Sharon that the Star of David belongs to all Jews and not to his repulsive government.

"His actions are staining the Star of David with blood."

Mr Kaufman - who was shadow foreign secretary under Neil Kinnock - said Mr Sharon had "made it impossible" for the US to take action against Iraq.

Gerald Kaufman
Mr Kaufman was forthright in his condemnation
"To do so would be to unite the whole Muslim world against the United States," he argued.

"Sharon is not simply a war criminal, he's a fool."

He added that another upshot of Israelis action was the "rehabilitation" of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat into a Palestinian icon.

Earlier Mr Straw said that a state of Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side had to be the "destination" of any peace process, he said.

He told MPs it was time for a "sober and serious" examination of the issues because the prospect of peace now "hung by a thread".

The efforts of US secretary of state Colin Powell, currently in the Middle East, had the UK Government's full support, he said.

But neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis could claim a monopoly of right and wrong.

'Real future'

Mr Straw told MPs he found reports of deaths on both sides "deeply disturbing".

"Only by a two state solution are we ever going to achieve a resolution of this conflict," said Mr Straw.

"These are communities which have to live side by side or they cannot live at all.

"There is no future for these territories, no real future for Israel, unless they can reach an accommodation."

For the Conservatives, shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram said that any future peace depended on a mutual sense of security.

Steps back from abyss

He urged the Israeli government to stop its incursions into the West Bank.

But he said if PLO chairman Yasser Arafat was unable to prevent suicide bombings then another method would have to be found.

Suicide bomb
Aftermath of a suicide bomb
Mr Ancram - who like Mr Straw said he was a long-standing friend of Israel - said that equally he had long supported the rights of the Palestinian people.

"The strongest lesson I have learnt is never to give up hope," he said.

"However dark the horizon there are always steps back from the abyss to the negotiating table.

"They are neither quick nor easy but they carry hope and in the Middle East at the moment hope is at a premium."

'Intolerable'

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said there were parallels between the Middle East situation and the Northern Ireland peace process.

But, he stressed, there was one key difference.

"When the most terrible atrocities were committed at Omagh or Enniskillen, the British government did not put attack helicopters over the Bogside and we most certainly did not invade terrorist-supporting enclaves in the south."

Israel was damaging not just its credentials as a democracy but also the hopes of a lasting settlement through its actions, even though the provocation was "intolerable", he told MPs.

See also:

16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Powell hails progress in Mid-East talks
10 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair faces MPs' anger over Iraq
06 Apr 02 | Middle East
US and UK demand Israel pullout
15 Mar 02 | UK Politics
UK MP calls Israel 'pariah'
25 Sep 01 | Middle East
Israel snubs UK Government
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