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Blair Gives "Diplomatic Cover" to Israel: MPs
CAIRO — British opposition and Labour MPs queued up Thursday, July20 , to accuse Prime Minister Tony Blair's government of giving "diplomatic cover" to the bloody Israeli assault on Lebanon and a powerful signal that Israel can continue its attacks with impunity.
"We are heading for further violence and catastrophe. And I'm sad to say that our Government is following President Bush's errors and pouring petrol on the flames," Labour MP Clare Short told Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, The Independent reported Friday, July21 .
Short warned that "massive killing of innocent Lebanese civilians and destruction of infrastructure" amounted to a war crime.
Joan Ruddock, Labour MP for Lewisham Deptford and a former minister, asked Beckett: "There can be no doubt that Hizbullah started this conflict. But would she not agree that the response by Israel with 300 Lebanese civilians dead,1 , 000injured, and half a million people dispossessed, is utterly disproportionate?"
Beckett told the Cabinet that those calling for a halt to hostilities, including the French government, were in effect demanding a one-sided ceasefire.
Israel, which is also waging a three-week-old offensive in Gaza, began its assault after Hizbullah took prisoner two soldiers and killed eight in a cross-border raid on July12 .
Its deadly campaign has killed at least 312 people in Lebanon, the vast majority civilians, and displaced half a million.
Some incumbent and former ministers said they were "appalled" that Beckett had failed to visit the region to demonstrate British concern at the scale of the Israeli bombardment.
"Is it not just a tiny bit shameful that although we rightly condemn Hizbullah for what they have done, we can find nothing stronger than the word regret to describe the slaughter and misery and mayhem that Israel has unleashed on a fragile country like Lebanon?" wondered. Chris Mullin, a former Foreign Office minister.
Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, said Blair must now accept that Israel's actions are disproportionate and amount to collective punishment.
"There should be an immediate ceasefire as (UN Secretary General) Kofi Annan has now confirmed," he said.
Two countries, the US and Britain, defiantly refused Thursday to back Annan's call for immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas.
Annan's statement before the Security Council reflected the deep-seated international unease about the human cost of Israel's response.
"What is most urgently needed is an immediate cessation of hostilities," he said.
He said Israel must make "a far greater and more credible effort ... to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure".