Page last updated at 15:46 GMT, Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Clegg urges Israel condemnation

Nick Clegg
The Lib Dem leader says Israel's actions are disproportionate

Gordon Brown must "unambiguously condemn" Israel's actions in Gaza, Nick Clegg has said, the first senior UK politician to urge such action.

The Lib Dem leader said Mr Brown must make clear that recent actions by both Israel and Hamas were unacceptable, calling his comments "mealy-mouthed".

He also called for an embargo on UK arms sales to Israel, a move backed by nearly 100 other MPs.

Israel halted military operations in Gaza for three hours on Wednesday.

The UK government insists it is working flat out to negotiate a lasting ceasefire.

'Stronger words'

But Mr Clegg said the UK's diplomatic efforts to end the violence had been insufficient.

"If we wanted to we could say much stronger things, louder and clearer to both sides to get them to pull back from the brink," he told BBC Radio 5Live.

It was a "nonsense" that the UK and other European countries had effectively "sub-contracted" Middle East policy to the US and were "waiting" for US President-Elect Barack Obama to resolve the crisis.

Mr Clegg said Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli territory were "totally unacceptable".

But he said Israel's use of "overwhelming force" in response would not improve its desire for long-term security.

"The immediate impact of this is to drive more Palestinians into the arms of Hamas, exactly what Israel does not want."

Earlier, in an article in The Guardian, Mr Clegg said Gordon Brown "must condemn unambiguously Israel's tactics, just as he has rightly condemned Hamas' rocket attacks".

Arms calls

The EU must suspend all arms exports to Israel, Mr Clegg wrote, while the UK must act unilaterally to do this if necessary.

It is not in the interests of Israel for this to go on for a long time
William Hague

He said the amount of arms sold by the UK to Israel had increased substantially in 2008 and there were serious questions about whether their use violated EU licensing rules.

Mr Clegg also reiterated his call for the EU to suspend talks on a new proposed co-operation agreement with Israel, a move the Foreign Office has described as "naive".

The Conservatives said they would not "condemn" Israel's actions as "disproportionate" since it had been provoked by Hamas attacks.

"I don't use that language," said shadow foreign secretary William Hague. "You have to remember how this started. It started with the launching of about 300 rockets by Hamas into Israel."

But Mr Hague said Tuesday's bombing of a UN school building, which killed 30 people and injured 55, "damaged" Israel's cause and called on "both sides" to accept a ceasefire.

"It is not in the interests of Israel for this to go on for a long time."

Meanwhile 98 MPs have signed a statement calling for an "end to the slaughter in Gaza" and an arms embargo.

Mr Brown described Tuesday's bombing of the UN compound as the "darkest moment" so far of the conflict.



Clarification: In February 2009, the United Nations said that a clerical error had led it to report that Israeli mortars had struck a UN-run school in Jabaliya, Gaza, on 6 January killing about 40 people. Maxwell Gaylord, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Jerusalem, said that the Israeli Defense Force mortars fell in the street near the compound, and not on the compound itself. He said that the UN "would like to clarify that the shelling and all of the fatalities took place outside and not inside the school".



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