Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Hague to address MPs on Gaza crisis

William Hague says Britain supports Egypt's efforts to mediate between Israel and Palestinians
Palestinians run to take cover during an Israeli air strike on building in Gaza City (AP)

Foreign Secretary William Hague is to address MPs about the mounting crisis in Gaza.

More than 100 Palestinians and three Israelis are reported to have been killed in six days of fighting, with militant groups firing hundreds of rockets into Israel, which has in turn hit more than 1,350 targets in the Gaza Strip.

Mr Hague was in Brussels on Monday for talks in which EU foreign ministers voiced full support for continuing international peace efforts.

He praised Egyptian ceasefire negotiations for averting an Israeli ground invasion so far in the crisis and said the fact that Israel was holding back from an invasion of Gaza, and that rocket attacks on Israel were lessening, were "positives" in an otherwise desperate situation.

He will make a statement to the Commons in which he will reiterate Britain's stance that Gaza's Hamas rulers are to blame for starting the offensive, although Israel also has a responsibility to "de-escalate" the violence.

Leaving Brussels on Monday night, Mr Hague paid tribute to Egyptian efforts to negotiate "a ceasefire that can work". He continued: "I am pleased that Israel has held back from a ground invasion while such negotiations go on, and that the rate of rocket attacks on Israel has fallen, for whatever reason, over the last 24 hours. These are positive developments, but of course it remains a desperately serious and difficult situation."

Mr Hague said everyone across Europe remained gravely concerned about Gaza, and EU governments, including the UK, fully supported continuing peace efforts.

Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt arrived in Israel on Monday for a three-day visit, during which he will also go to the Gaza Strip. He will meet senior Israeli ministers and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad.

He is visiting Kiryat Malachi where a rocket hit a residential building, killing three Israeli civilians last week. "I am gravely concerned about the current crisis, particularly the loss of civilian life on both sides," he said. "Today I have seen for myself the impact of this conflict, and the terrible toll and suffering it is inflicting on families and communities across Israel. Coming here has given me a sense of what life is like for people under attack, and the appalling devastation that rocket attacks bring.

"The people in villages, towns and cities across Israel have the right to live without the constant fear of rocket attacks. I look forward to speaking to president Abbas to discuss the human impact of the conflict in Gaza, where rising numbers of civilian casualties are a real cause for concern."

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