Lord Kilclooney’s remarks came as a 24-hour ceasefire between Israel and Hamas broke down yesterday with the resumption of rocket fire.
More than 1,060 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died in the recent three-week offensive, compared to 43 Israeli soldiers and two Israeli civilians. Questions are growing as to whether Israel is guilty of war crimes.
In an unusual statement from a unionist, the former deputy leader of the party’s Assembly group also said he had been “amazed” by the adoption of the Israeli flag in some loyalist areas of Northern Ireland.
“I often think they haven’t seen the reality of what is happening there,” said Lord Kilclooney.
“I am not an authority on war crime, but what does concern me are the civilians, women and children, who are being slaughtered. It is the slaughter of the innocents. It’s dreadful what Israel has been doing.”
But the former Strangford MP also argued Hamas could “score diplomatically” by recognising the state of Israel’s right to exist, as many other Palestinians do. “The situation on the ground in the West Bank, in Gaza and in east Jerusalem is terrible. It has to be seen to be believed,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Sequence programme.
“I believe that Israel has every right to exist, that its security must be guaranteed, but at the same time that Hamas would score diplomatically if they would agree that Israel had that right to exist. That would begin the negotiations that would lead to a lasting peace.”
Lord Kilclooney said the issue of recognition has strong resonance in Ireland.
He said for decades the Republic refused to recognise Northern Ireland but did so following the 1998 Belfast Agreement and that now there is “great co-operation” between Belfast and Dublin.
The DUP’s Mervyn Storey said, however: “I would take a different view.
“It is awful what is happening and terrible to see such an unfortunate loss of life, but Israel has a right to defend itself against the Hamas terrorist organisation.
“It has to be remembered that Hamas has said it wants to see Israel wiped off the face of the Earth. There is no doubt there is a correlation between the activities of terrorist organisations such as Hamas and the IRA.”
And Progressive Unionist leader Billy Hutchinson said: “We should not be blaming one side or the other. It has to be remembered also that the IRA were in training camps with the Palestine Liberation Organisation and others in the 1970s and when people wave Palestinian flags it gets a reaction. But it is not a clear-cut issue.”
The comments of local politicians came less than 24 hours after more than 500 people took part in a march in Belfast in protest against Israeli actions in Gaza.
Protesters including trade union Unison walked from Botanic Gardens in south Belfast to the US Consulate on Saturday afternoon. In Londonderry, scores of protesters lay down on Shipquay Street in the city centre in a pro-Gaza demonstration.
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