I propose to take Questions Nos. 1, 3, 7, 25, 31 and 55 together.
The Government is gravely concerned at the recent developments in Lebanon. Ireland has been intensively involved in efforts to end the current violence in Lebanon and northern Israel and to ensure the safety of the Irish UNIFIL battalion. This involvement stems, on the one hand, from our participation in the EU Troika and, on the other from our role as a UNIFIL troop contributor. Ireland has also been involved in discussions on the situation at the UN. The Irish permanent representative addressed the Security Council on 18 April, expressing the Government's strong condemnation of the attack on the UNIFIL post at Qana and our deep concern at the deterioration in the situation in the Middle East, with the consequent strains on the peace process. In these discussions we have sought to ensure that priority will be given to the safety of civilians and the UNIFIL contingent.
The attack on the UNIFIL position at Qana, south Lebanon, was strongly condemned by the Taoiseach and in a statement issued by the Tánaiste on Thursday, 18 April. An EU statement expressed shock and consternation at the attack and called for the violence to cease.
Ireland has been centrally engaged in EU efforts to end the crisis. In the past ten days a senior official in the Department of Foreign Affairs responsible for the Middle East has participated in a series of urgent Troika missions in Beirut, Damascus, Amman, Cairo and Tel Aviv. Following the Qana attack, a reinforced EU Troika mission, headed by Italian Foreign Minister Agnelli, met with a number of key parties to the conflict last weekend, including Israeli Prime Minister Peres and Foreign Minister Barak, Lebanese President Haroui and Prime Minister Hariri, and President Assad of Syria. The Troika also visited wounded Lebanese civilians in two hospitals to express the EU's sympathy.
The Government has also been involved at the bilateral level. The Israeli ambassador was summoned to the Department of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday, 16 April so that the Government's concerns could be conveyed to his authorities. He was made aware of our views regarding the disproportionate response by Israel to Hizbullah attacks. In particular, concerns were expressed for the safety of Lebanese civilians and UNIFIL personnel, and about attacks on Lebanese infrastructure.
The Israeli ambassador was called in again on Friday, 19 April to be informed of the Government's condemnation of the Qana attack and to reiterate our very grave concerns about attacks on Lebanese civilians and infrastructure, as well as the great importance we attach to the safety of UNIFIL. The ambassador was told of the Government's clear view that the military activities should stop immediately.
EU Foreign Ministers considered the crisis at their meeting in Luxembourg on 22 April. Ireland's position on the need to condemn the attacks on civilians and, in particular, attacks on UNIFIL bases as occurred at Qana was strongly expressed and reflected in the declaration which was adopted. This declaration deplores the attack on Qana, and confirms the Union's willingness to contribute actively to the search for an immediate halt to hostilities, with the aim of elaborating a lasting agreement between the parties which would not prejudice a global agreement between Israel and Lebanon in the context of the peace process. It supports the efforts of UNIFIL in trying, in highly adverse circumstances, to alleviate the effects of violence and ensure the safety of the civilian population.
UNIFIL's mandate is based on UN Security Council Resolution 425 of 1978 affirming Lebanon's territorial integrity and sovereignty and requiring Israel to withdraw its forces. Ireland remains committed to the UNIFIL mandate and believes successive Irish UNIFIL contingents have made a valuable contribution to security in south Lebanon and have thereby played a role in maintaining peace and stability in the Middle East region generally. UNIFIL has also made an important contribution to the humanitarian needs of the local population. The request of the UN Secretary General and the Government of Lebanon to maintain UNIFIL was endorsed unanimously by the Security Council on 29 January last. On 18 April the Security Council called upon all concerned, in a resolution, to allow UNIFIL to fulfil its mandate without any obstacle or interference. I do not believe that this general agreement on the important role of UNIFIL has been undermined as a result of the current crisis.
Israel's recent attacks on Lebanon have undermined UNIFIL's capacity to conduct normal operations. However, I remain confident this is a temporary setback and UNIFIL will be able to fully resume its role in south Lebanon after the present crisis has been resolved.
The Government currently has no plans to withdraw Ireland's UNIFIL contingent. The Army authorities are satisfied that the danger currently posed to Irish personnel is not such as to necessitate our withdrawal from UNIFIL. The first phase of the six monthly rotation of the Irish UNIFIL battalion is now under way. The safety of Irish UNIFIL soldiers remains a paramount concern. The Government will continue to monitor their situation closely and, as the Tánaiste has already indicated, will take whatever measures may be necessary to help ensure their safety.
In the light of the Government's concern about the growing humanitarian crisis, the Department of Foreign Affairs has allocated £200,000 emergency aid for Lebanon. This will be distributed through a number of channels including the International Committee of the Red Cross, UN agencies and our UNIFIL battalion.
Ireland, as a member of the EU Troika and in our capacity as UNIFIL troop contributor, will continue to pursue diplomatic efforts in the Middle East region, aimed at promoting a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.