MP apologises for Gaza rocket tweet
Liberal Democrat MP David Ward has issued what the party described as a "categorical apology", after posting a tweet suggesting that he might be ready to fire rockets from Gaza into Israel.
The Bradford East MP said that his comments were not intended to support Hamas rocket attacks, adding: "If they gave the opposite impression, I apologise."
The statement came after the Board of Deputies of British Jews called on Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg to withdraw the party whip from Mr Ward, whose membership was suspended for a period following previous controversial remarks about Israel and the Jews.
Following his statement, the Liberal Democrats said that Mr Ward would meet chief whip Don Foster "in due course" after which a decision would be made on whether disciplinary action should be taken.
Mr Ward was widely accused of inciting violence with a tweet last night in which he said: "The big question is - if I lived in Gaza would I fire a rocket? - probably yes."
The Board of Deputies said he had "shamed Parliament, the Liberal Democrats and himself".
The Lib Dems said they "utterly condemned" the remarks which "are not representative of the Liberal Democrats".
Today, Mr Ward issued a statement to say: "I utterly condemn the violence on both sides in Israel and Gaza.
"I condemn the actions of Hamas, and my comments were not in support of firing rockets into Israel. If they gave the opposite impression, I apologise."
He added: "However, while I defend the right of Israel to exist and defend itself, I will continue to speak out for the rights of the Palestinian people who are facing untold suffering. More must be done by the world community to end this humanitarian crisis and protect the families living in Gaza. I can understand their plight and desperation.
"A ceasefire in this conflict is essential. If we are to end the suffering, and establish a safer society for people in Gaza, the first step must be an end to violence on both sides."
A Lib Dem spokesman said: "This is a categorical apology from David Ward. In light of this apology, the party and the whips will decide in due course if further disciplinary action should be taken."
Conservative chairman Grant Shapps described last night's tweet as "appalling" and Labour said it was a "vile" comment by a "desperate" MP.
But Mr Ward initially appeared unrepentant, following it up with an echo of John F Kennedy's famous expression of support for Germans trapped by the 1948 Soviet blockade of Berlin: "Ich bin ein Palestinian - the West must make up its mind - which side is it on?"
In an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, he declined to withdraw his comments, saying he had been trying to understand what might drive Gazan residents to violence.
"The question is why would they want to fire missiles when they know that the missiles will result in further Palestinian deaths, to a disproportionate level? Why are they doing it?" he said.
"They are doing it because they are absolutely desperate and politicians in the West are failing them. The people in Gaza cannot escape, they are hemmed in by land, sea and air. I understand the plight of the people firing the rockets."
Speaking before the MP's statement, a spokesman for the Board of Deputies said: "David Ward MP says he would be prepared to fire a rocket from Gaza into Israel - an act which the EU today called 'criminal and unjustifiable'. Ward has once again shamed Parliament, the Liberal Democrats and himself.
"We welcome the unequivocal condemnation of Ward's statement by party leader Nick Clegg MP but his words must now be underpinned by action and the party whip withdrawn permanently."
The spokesman said the Board was also "deeply c oncerned" by comments made by former Lib Dem MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, who came to Mr Ward's defence with a tweet in which he referred to the Board of Deputies as "disputatious Jews" and Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard as "a prat".
Mr McMillan-Scott, a former vice president of the European Parliament who defected from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems in 2010 before losing his seat earlier this year, wrote: "David Ward can look after himself. The @BoardofDeputies is a frightful bag of disputatious Jews and the editor of the @JewishChron is a prat."
His comment sparked a storm on Twitter, with some posts accusing him of anti-semitism - a charge he denied.
The ex-MEP later used Twitter to issue an apology which the Board of Deputies dismissed as "wholly inadequate". It read: "I apol to @BoardofDeputies altho they didn't when I was smeared by @stephenpollard in 2009 at behest of #Coulson. D Tel did tho. I'm not a/S" (anti-semitic).
Mr Ward had the party whip restored in September after serving a suspension of several weeks over a series of clashes with the Lib Dem hierarchy over his views on Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians.
The final straw for the leadership was a posting in July last year questioning the future existence of the state of Israel which the party said broke a previous agreement to use "proportionate and precise'' language when commenting on the issue.
Mr Ward condemned that ruling as "disproportionate", saying such views were widely shared.
Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi has written to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, urging him to investigate Mr Ward for encouragement of terrorism.
Mr Zahawi wrote in the letter: "Freedom of speech is an important right but it is not an unqualified one. This is especially true for public figures who have the capacity to influence the actions of others.
"Mr Ward's tweets would appear to be prima facie evidence that he has committed the offence of encouragement of terrorism as defined by Section 1(2) of the Terrorism Act 2006.
"Mr Ward may or may not have intended this statement to encourage others to fire rockets from Gaza into Israel, but regrettably he would appear to at least have been reckless as to whether others would be encouraged to commit such acts."