Situation in the Middle East: Discussion.

This meeting was convened because of our great concern regarding the humanitarian and political crisis that continues to unfold in the Lebanon. As the origin, causes and sequencing of the crisis are complex, with many actors and many consequences for the stability of the Middle East and for the world, I suggest that we concentrate on two matters: first, the imperative need for an immediate and lasting ceasefire in Lebanon; and second, the immediate humanitarian needs of the people of Lebanon and the urgent need to allow sustained access to them so that those who wish to leave can do so safely and so that aid can be given to individuals who are unable or too weak to leave.

This crisis must be de-escalated. There is no knowing where it may lead if it is not stopped now. We all were shocked and appalled by last Sunday's massacre of women and children at Qana. Every Irish child, at least of my generation, has thought of Qana — what we would have called Cana — as the place where Jesus performed his first miracle. This week, for the second time in ten years, it is a place of mass death caused by Israeli military action.

This massacre, which was forecast with uncanny precision by Lara Marlowe in The Irish Times last week, was preventable. I urge all members to read her article. I am sure most have already done so. She wrote of her memories of the 1996 Qana massacre, in which sustained Israeli artillery bombardment killed 105 Lebanese civilians who were sheltering at UNIFIL’s Fijian battalion headquarters on 8 April 1996. She quoted a Lebanese army colonel at the time who stated:

The Syrians and Iranians are fighting a war against the Israelis here in southern Lebanon ... The Lebanese pay, pay and pay. Arabs say the strong always devour the weak. Lebanon is the weakest country in the Middle East.

Those were prophetic words. Ms Marlowe concluded her article by stating "The rule of international law — the non-selective enforcement of all Security Council resolutions — provides the only hope of freeing Lebanon from this infernal, repetitious cycle." I fully endorse her words. If we are to see lasting peace in the region, the UN resolutions relating to the disarmament of southern Lebanon and the resolutions relating to the Occupied Territories must be implemented in full.

I wish to make a few more points about this crisis. UN resolution 1559 requires Hizbollah to demilitarise southern Lebanon and to desist from attacks on Israel. Hizbollah has cynically fuelled this crisis by abducting two Israeli soldiers and by hiding its members among the Shia population of Lebanon while it fires missiles into Israel. The Lebanese Government has not prevented it from stockpiling missiles and other weapons in southern Lebanon in the six years since Israel withdrew from there but Israel's response has been overwhelming and its actions could not have been better planned to ensure sympathy for the recruitment by Hizbollah of outraged and dispossessed Lebanese and Arab citizens. Hizbollah must stop its attacks on Israel and those with influence must use it for the benefit of the Lebanese to obtain a ceasefire. Israel has a right to defend itself and rightly believes it is under threat from Hizbollah. A proxy war is being fought in Lebanon with all the risks that it will escalate into a wider regional conflict.

However, Israel is a democratic state and must adhere at all times to the laws governing the conduct of war set out in the Geneva Conventions. It must act proportionately to the threat and must take steps to ensure the safety of civilians. There are solid grounds for believing this has not been done or is not being done. The Geneva Conventions also govern the treatment of prisoners of war and they apply equally to all persons. They are in place to protect all persons regardless of nationality and these include citizens of Lebanon, Gaza and Israel, the captured Israeli soldiers and the thousands of Palestinians held in detention without trial in Israeli jails.

It is not acceptable for Israel to order Lebanese civilians to leave their homes and livelihoods and, at the same time, to bomb the exit roads and the convoys of fleeing civilians; to turn southern Lebanon into a free-fire zone and to act on the assumption that all those who remain are legitimate targets; or to destroy civilian infrastructure in a scorched earth policy. Sooner or later Israel must make peace with all its neighbours in its own interest. Above all, this means a just, negotiated and mutually acceptable peace with the Palestinians. Sooner or later, those in the world who call for the destruction of Israel must realise and acknowledge it has a right to exist in peace and security on its own internationally acknowledged territory.

This conflict makes the world a more dangerous place. It has discredited the European Union in the Muslim world, where it is no longer seen as an impartial observer of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has taken a strong line from the outset in calling for an immediate ceasefire in the face of sustained disagreement from the United States and most of our European colleagues. The committee heard his position on 18 July, which remains valid. The outcome of today's meeting should be to send a clear message to the Minister, supporting him in his efforts to secure agreement in the EU and in the UN on an immediate ceasefire, and, on the immediate establishment and effective functioning of a humanitarian corridor, to allow relief to Lebanese citizens and supporting fresh and reinvigorated multinational efforts under UN mandate to secure a comprehensive peace in the region.

I have received a written request from Deputy Michael D. Higgins that the committee meet to discuss the ongoing crisis, specifically the deterioration in the conflict between Israel and Lebanon. At our last meeting two weeks ago, the committee unanimously agreed a resolution in which it condemned the use of violence for political ends, especially against civilian targets, and called on all sides in the current conflict to cease all acts of violence. It is both upsetting and depressing to note the further deterioration in the situation since our last meeting, in particular, the tragic event in Qana last weekend and the killing of innocent civilians on all sides.

I thank the Chairman for acceding to my request to call a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. Since I wrote to the Chairman last week, much has happened of which I was not aware at the time, but I was aware of the requirement to give formal notice for a motion to be printed. I understand the secretariat has copies of the two motions I suggested and I will deal with them in a moment. One deals with the immediate situation in the Lebanon and the other, in an attempt to be constructive and contribute reasons for the conflict and its background, deals with the human rights clauses attached to the trade agreement agreed between the European Union and the state of Israel. In order to concentrate on the situation in the Lebanon, I do not have a difficulty with the second motion being placed formally on the agenda for our next meeting so that people may have the opportunity to reflect on it. We can come to that decision later.

When I wrote to the Chairman, I said I would make one change in what I had submitted as text, namely, to replace the word "deploring" with the word "condemning". The motion I submitted would now read that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs:

Condemning—

The fact that over 600 civilians have died in Southern Lebanon and Israel in recent weeks, many of them children; [That figure has increased since I submitted this]

The damage done to civilian infrastructure in Lebanon on such a scale as to render over 750,000 people homeless; [Again, these figures have increased]

The indiscriminate attacks on a United Nations outpost in South Lebanon which resulted in the deaths of four international members of UNIFIL;

Most independent commentators have suggested that warnings were given and that the attacks cannot be construed as an accident. With regard to the attacks on UNIFIL I was particularly appalled by the suggestion by Israel's representative at the United Nations, Dan Gellerman, that UNIFIL had been wasting its time for more than 25 years and that it had got too close to the people who, in turn, had got too close to Hizbollah. That was an outrageous attack on UNIFIL and on the members of our forces who have served with distinction in southern Lebanon.

The motion continues:

Recognising the important role of UNIFIL and Irish Defence Forces' contribution to that body;

Appalled at the most recent slaughter in Qana over the weekend just passed with its high proportion of child victims;

Affirming its belief that the taking of civilian life is never lawful; [Lest there be any spin on this, I mean the taking of civilian life not just in southern Lebanon, but also in Israel — the choosing of civilian targets.]

Condemns the loss of life occurring in Israel and in southern Lebanon;

Calls—

For an immediate ceasefire and for the immediate support of the seven point plan as outlined by the Lebanese Prime Minister [Fouad Siniora];

For Ireland to use its influence at United Nations level to call on the Security Council, and General Assembly, to give its support to such a resolution as would facilitate an immediate ceasefire in the region;

Calls on the European Union to sponsor comprehensive talks on the current conflict in the region and demands the participation of all actors in the current conflict, including Syria and Iran;

Further calls—

For a rejection of militarism and a sustained engagement by the European Union and the UN on such a set of political proposals as would support the establishment of a viable contiguous Palestinian state, and would enable a true security to be provided for Israel based on accepted borders, and withdrawal from occupied territories;

For the International community to work for the demilitarisation of the region, and to engage in such talks with all of the states in the region as would enable a demilitarisation to take place and the basis for sustained peace and development to be created.

I will move this motion with the Chairman's permission and hope the committee accepts this wording which condemns the loss of life and the destruction of civilian infrastructure on all sides. I have provided copies to the committee and have other copies available if members wish to consider it.

I do not mind if my second motion is not taken formally until the next meeting. It proposes that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs calls on Ireland to raise at the next meeting of the European Council of Ministers, bearing in mind previous decisions of the European Parliament, the need for implementation of the terms of Article 2 of the Euro-Med trade agreement with Israel and that it review within a period of three months the compliance with Article 2 and take such a decision within six months on such measures as are appropriate following this review.

Lest everyone say we are all agreed on the need for a ceasefire, the fact that so many members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs are present means that people are very supportive of a call for an immediate ceasefire. This is my estimation but I may be wrong. There is no point in thinking anything other than that the outcome of the extraordinary General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting in Brussels — the documentation of which was circulated to members for this meeting — is deeply disappointing. In paragraph four of the document the council shows its strong and clear recognition of the human casualties and human suffering, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the number of displaced persons. In the second paragraph the council condemns Hizbollah's attack on Israel. However it does not immediately refer to the response which, I repeat, was in breach of international law and in breach of all those statutes that protect civilians. Its weakest outcome is that the council calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities to be followed by a sustainable ceasefire.

This is to kick to touch the issue of the immediate ceasefire requested in my motion. Condoleezza Rice has suggested that it may happen within a matter of days. It has been said by Deputy Prime Minister Peres that it might happen in a couple of weeks. Some military people interviewed said they may need three months. What we are witnessing is something that we cannot but condemn outright. We must be unequivocal in our request for an immediate ceasefire. To date more than 600 people are dead. If this conflict is to continue in this way, giving people 24 hours' notice to leave their homes without the means to leave very often and when all the bridges, 80% of the roads and much of the civilian infrastructure have been destroyed, is little less than gross oppression. I do not want to hear all these people immediately say that I am failing to condemn other acts of violence against civilians. That people in Israel have been killed and injured and have had to live in bunkers is equally reprehensible.

We must call a spade a spade. We are talking about a state with one of the best equipped armies in the world, operating in the territory of a sovereign neighbour, with the support of the largest power in the world which it construes as conferring impunity on it with regard to its compliance with international law. People can dance on the heads of pins to suggest it is a principle of international law that a country has the right to defend itself but there is no principle of international law to suggest that one can advance that principle at the cost of the international legal principles that are there for the protection of the rights of civilians in times of war and in conditions of war. It is interesting for those who might wish to go down that road to note that the protection of civilians under the Geneva Convention was in fact drafted by military people who knew what they were doing. When they drafted the convention they knew of the conditions that might arise where people operating in a military or a terrorist fashion would take refuge among civilian populations.

In case after case it has been stated that the presence of Hizbollah among civilian populations can never be a justification for the visiting of death, injury and destruction of civilian infrastructure on that civilian population, no more than it can be required of the Lebanese Government or the Lebanese army that they remove something from their midst that they cannot remove and that they be asked to pay the price of a civil war in Lebanon so as to be able to achieve a barrier north of the border with Israel. This is completely outrageous and deeply cynical by the very eminent people who are advancing this proposition.

I have changed the first part of my motion to remove the word "deploring" because I accept my colleague's suggestion that we should use the word "condemning". The motion condemns what took place, makes reference to Qana and affirms the principle that the taking of civilian life can never be lawful in any circumstances.

In its second part it calls for our support for the seven-point plan proposed by the Lebanese Prime Minister. Given an impasse at the UN Security Council there is a case for utilising the mechanism of "anything but war", where 33 members of the General Assembly can call for an initiative coming from the General Assembly. That is possibly the best way to proceed should there be an impasse at the Security Council.

Those who write about a clash of civilisations and seek to construe this as a confrontation between Western and Islamic values are deeply irresponsible. If there is a connection between Syria and Iran and those who are operating such as Hizbollah or in a different way Hamas in Gaza, then Syria and Iran should be included in such talks as will lead to stability and peace in the region. However, the suggestion that confronting these states without exhausting the procedures of diplomacy and without addressing the deep-seated problems of the region is grossly irresponsible.

The last section of the motion calls for the assertion of diplomacy over militarism. It also deals with political proposals that would support the establishment of a viable contiguous Palestinian state. It is not possible to have a viable Palestinian state if it is divided into cantons. For example Gaza represents 1% of the ancient state of Palestine. It is equally impossible to roll back history. If we believe, for example, that it would be possible to construct an initiative towards establishing peace on the 1967 borders, the European Union and its members should speak of that. What it has done in its tragic response to the outcome of the elections in Palestine is to refuse to recognise the distinction between the evolving views of Hamas in Gaza and the voice of Hamas as coming from Syria. It made a tragic mistake by assuming that aid could be delivered outside the mechanism of the Palestinian state. These were contributory factors to what is taking place in Gaza.

As our meeting refers to the Middle East I want it to state that just because we have been visited by such tragedy in Lebanon, we cannot lift our gaze from what is happening in Gaza. We will never have peace in the Middle East until people are real about a political solution. Those in the militant sectors of Hamas or Hizbollah will never move from a military to a political strategy unless the political strategy is asserted with some consistency and with principle. In one statement after another the European Council has called on Hamas to recognise Israel. However, it is curiously evasive on the 18-point plan produced by four prisoners representing different factions, which was published just a few days before the kidnapping of a soldier on the border. If it wants to drive on towards a political solution it must encourage people to have belief.

I visited Palestine for the first time in the early 1980s during the first intifada. Since then a further two generations have lived in refugee camps. The latest generation is being betrayed by the international community, as were their parents and grandparents. Equally, if we are to address the need for a diplomatic solution we need to be able, for example, to drive it on in terms of all the principles of the Quartet's proposals. The Quartet had as its final phase the achievement of agreement on Jerusalem. In its penultimate phase it was supposed to deal with the issue of withdrawals from settlements. We have had a concentration on the question of the state of recognition. The 18-point plan produced by the prisoners de facto recognises the state of Israel. I recognise that we have to go forward by such a recognition. There should also have been an insistence in the Quartet’s proposals for a withdrawal behind the 1967 borders. When I refer to a viable contiguous Palestinian state, I mean that there needs to be a withdrawal from the illegally occupied areas. I also mean that there needs to be a recognition of equal human rights for those within Israel, regardless of whether they are Palestinians or others. There also needs to be a recognition of the right to water, the right to movement and the right to an economy, etc. All of that has been put on the back burner. Time after time, the European Union has issued a statement declaring that this issue relates to the recognition of state of Israel.

I will conclude by referring to those who are equally contributing to irresponsibility arising from the translation and misconstruction of certain comments. I am not a supporter of the President of Iran. When he said that the current administration in Israel must be removed from the page of time, I condemned what was said. Those who suggest that he said it was the intention of all of Israel's neighbours to wipe Israel off the map are simply stating an untruth. If the British Prime Minister decides to restate that suggestion, it becomes an even greater untruth, although it is less unexpected for me as I have some previous experience of listening to his untruths. At this time, we do not want those of eminence to encourage a clash of civilisations, to call for a confrontation between east and west or to make speeches about the superiority of values in which they claim the exclusivity or superiority of the values of one civilisation over another. Such comments are negative, dangerous and militaristic.

I hope the motion I have read out, which I wish to circulate, is seen as balanced. It has been deliberately constructed to achieve support from all the members of the committee. I do not suggest that my views are any different from those of other members. I am aware that members of all parties and Independent Members of both Houses have been deeply concerned about the apparent ease with which the world has looked on while loss of life and destruction have taken place.

Deputy Michael Higgins needs someone to second his motion and I am happy to do that.

Technically, the Senator cannot do that. The committee can use the motion as a resolution that can be unanimously agreed. We can come back to that after other people have made their views known. The motion was not circulated in time. We are not arguing about that, but that is the technical position. Members who are not present, who may have sent someone to this meeting to deputise for them, are not aware of the motion. It would be preferable for the committee not to divide on the matter. It may wish to agree a unanimous resolution based on the motion, which is——

I would like to help the Chairman in that regard. I suggest that what I have read out should be the text of a statement to be issued by the committee. That proposal would be in order because it would not require four days' notice. I had just three days' notice of this meeting. I propose that what I have read out should be the text of the statement to be issued at the end of this meeting.

We will have a discussion on it first. I suggest that we should include in the list of items the phrase "including the sustained deployment of humanitarian relief to the people affected by the violence".

I accept that.

I thank the Chairman for calling this meeting. I know it was proposed that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs should meet this week, but I think this is the appropriate forum for a discussion about the serious events in question. I do not intend to repeat many of the things said by Deputy Michael Higgins. I have seen his motion, the contents of which I support, generally speaking. I also support the proposed compromise that the committee should issue a statement later today. I will try not to create any political problems among the members of the committee. The points I will make are among those in which I generally believe. I do not think we should divide in any way on the key issues.

As Deputy Michael D. Higgins has said, the current conflict has been flagged as a clash of civilisations and cultures. If one examines the patchwork nation that is Lebanon, one will see immediately that it is 41% Christian. There are also Shi'ite, Sunni, Druze and other groups within Lebanon, the fragile democracy of which has now been blown apart by the actions of the last number of weeks. I am quite nauseated by the statement from Brussels following Monday's meeting of Foreign Ministers. The Foreign Ministers of the nations of Europe fiddled around with words while Lebanon was being bombed and burned, and its civilians were being killed. It was nauseating to see a compromise reached instead of a forthright condemnation of events in Lebanon and a call for a ceasefire, which is what is required. While the right noises are being made here at home, the words "cessation of hostilities" do not constitute a call for a ceasefire. Wrangling and quibbling over words is nauseating. The statements which have been made at home are not reflected in our foreign policy. Ireland's honourable, independent foreign policy, which was pursued by successive governments over decades, has been consigned to the dustbin and subsumed into a European policy which is dictated by a number of strong, large nations. It is a regrettable development.

The hand-wringing exercise on Monday does nothing and is impotent in the face of the escalating and unacceptable violence in Lebanon which is spreading to other parts of the Middle East. I agree with Deputy Michael D. Higgins that Israel has a responsibility to protect its citizens from attack and condemn as forthrightly as him the attacks on the civilian population in Israel by Hizbollah. However, the extent of the retaliation by Israel, which has destroyed power stations, bridges, roads, fuel depots, civilian airport runways and water supplies, all of which are vital for the survival of the civilian population, must be condemned. Attacking and bombarding undefended buildings, villages, towns and cities and killing innocent, unarmed civilians must also be condemned. The retaliation against Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza has, I believe, involved serious breaches of international humanitarian law which constitute war crimes for which there is no statute of limitation and for which responsibility must eventually be faced when a ceasefire occurs. I will not delay the meeting by setting out the list of crimes against civilian populations, but note that the cause of the war and every conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours continues to be Israel's refusal to withdraw to the lands it was given by the United Nations in 1947.

The result of today's meeting of the joint committee must be a clear, unambiguous statement calling for an immediate ceasefire and definite action by the European Union and United Nations. I am concerned at the lack of action by the United Nations which does very little honour to its cause. The Government must make a statement setting out its attitude to any future action by the UN. To call for a UN force in Lebanon is academic given the presence of such a force there already, which has been bombed and threatened with no action being taken. Calls for a UN force now puzzle me. The Government and the committee should have no compunction about calling for an immediate ceasefire give the abhorrence of Irish people about what is happening. Our voice, the voice of the people, is not being reflected at European level. As I indicated, this is not a war of civilisation.

Some weeks ago, at a meeting of the joint committee, I raised the Israeli Government's position with regard to Christians living in that part of the world, including the segregation wall which is strangling the life out of Bethlehem. Last year, a delegation from the joint committee, which included the Chairman and me, visited the holy sites in Israel and Palestine during a trip to the Middle East. I was horrified by what I saw in Bethlehem. The position at the holy sites would not be tolerated by any other religious group but there does not appear to be any international protest at what is happening. As soon as the more immediate problem of Lebanon is addressed — I hope our views will be expressed forthrightly in international fora — the issue of the holy sites in the Middle East must be investigated and a stand must be taken on what is taking place.

I am pleased to support the motion which I received just prior to the meeting. I have no reservations about it and believe the technical difficulties can be overcome by a statement. I will, therefore, support a statement reflecting the contents of the motion.

I presume members will have an opportunity to contribute again once colleagues have spoken. I do not wish to hog the meeting but I have further comments to make. My concern is that we issue a call for an immediate ceasefire, unambiguously condemn what is taking place in Lebanon and Israel and adopt a united position on the issue.

I thank the Chairman for agreeing to the request by Deputy Michael D. Higgins to hold a meeting of the joint committee. I congratulate Deputy Higgins on his skill in preparing the motion and on the speed with which he worked to bring members together today. It is appropriate that the committee meets. I would have been appalled if agreement had not been reached or the meeting had been prevented for some reason. Working with the Chairman and committee secretariat, Deputy Higgins has ensured this meeting could take place.

I share the Chairman's hope that the joint committee will reach a consensus based on the detailed motion read out earlier. I applaud the decision to issue a consensus statement based on the motion which cannot be adopted by means of a vote for technical reasons. A consensus statement would do a great deal of good.

I thank all the bodies which submitted documentation to the joint committee and ensured members were aware of developments. I commend, in particular, Christian Aid and thank it for the e-mail it sent to us this morning outlining its ongoing efforts in the region.

It is imperative that an immediate ceasefire is called. While the term "cessation of hostilities" sounds wonderful, it is not an immediate ceasefire because it would allow things to peter out and reignite. I do understand the reason the term "immediate ceasefire" was shunned given that a ceasefire is necessary. While everyone understands the meaning of the term "immediate ceasefire", the term "cessation of hostilities" could be taken to mean all sorts of things, for instance, simmering antagonism. We should be aware of this.

We should also be aware of referring to people as "goodies" and "baddies" and taking sides because this can often cloud debate and lead to polarisation. Deputy Michael D. Higgins has clearly and intelligently condemned civilian deaths in both Lebanon and Israel. I am sure everybody present agrees that women and children are the victims. Each night on television we see the wailing and keening at funerals. Women and children have been bombed indiscriminately, which is against the Geneva Convention and all UN resolutions. It is complete anathema to all of us.

Lebanon is being blamed for not dismantling the Hizbollah network but it cannot achieve this because it does not have the means to do so. Hizbollah is a paramilitary organisation that is acting according to its beliefs. It is pointless to blame Lebanon for failing to dismantle Hizbollah. United Nations Resolution 1559 states that Hizbollah should be demilitarised. However, blaming Lebanon is a futile exercise.

Condoleezza Rice has paid two lightning visits to the area. On the first occasion she visited both Israel and Lebanon but on the second occasion she only went to Israel. Much has been made of the fact that she did not visit Lebanon on the second occasion because the Prime Minister rightly said that it was a day of mourning following the atrocity in Qana. One can well ask how there would be time for sophisticated parlaying at a time when the nation was gripped by such a tragedy. No doubt Ms Rice is operating a tightrope act according to her professional standards but although she stated there would be a 72-hour window to allow a corridor for humanitarian aid, that did not happen because Israel refused to comply and for some reason very little has been made of that fact, which was a major violation.

In the meantime, Ms Rice has skipped back to Washington. I am sure she is doing her very best. She was sent on a mission and I am not here on a witch-hunt against her. However, to say there would be a ceasefire when that did not happen was a gross violation of the trust that had been placed in her diplomatic skills and in the shuttle diplomacy in which she was engaged.

I reiterate that it is always women and children who suffer in times of turmoil. When we look back to the Troubles in the North, the dreadful funerals that took place were always crowded with women and children. The atrocities we are discussing today also involve crowds of women and children. We have witnessed some awful scenes.

Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, made a good statement during which he referred to Beirut, which just three weeks ago was the vibrant symbol of Lebanon's recovery from civil war and which is now a virtual ghost town. RTE has done wonderful work on this issue, as has the BBC, for which Fergal Keane is evocative, dramatic and correct in his reporting. He always chooses issues that tear at one's heartstrings.

We received an e-mail from the UN Security Council stating that, like all of us, it is deeply shocked. The meeting to discuss its shock and what it might do began at 3.40 p.m. and ended at 3.45 p.m. — that is what my e-mail says and I expect it must be correct. I do not know how much shock and outrage could be expressed and how many plans for the future could be outlined in five minutes. An hour would be fine for such a meeting but it did not take so long according to the information I received. Given that it lasted only five minutes, I take it there was only a very accelerated expression of outrage and shock. This is what struck me when I read the documentation.

There has been much talk that a multinational force is to be sent to the affected region. The UNIFIL troops left after the dreadful bombing of the UN position in southern Lebanon are only a token force but, for many years, Irish soldiers, both men and women, carried out their duties with great commitment, diligence and idealism with a view to bringing peace to and maintaining peace in that war-ravaged region. In the course of canvassing over the past few days, as one does, I met many members of the Defence Forces in Athlone, both men and women. All say they will go to the region if called upon because they signed up for such duties in signing up as soldiers. The sending of a force would have to be discussed in the Dáil and Seanad.

There is too much of a glib reliance on trotting out the statement that we will have a multinational force and that somehow the blue patina will cover all that is happening and wonderful peace will descend. The sending of a force now would be decided by Government, including the Minister for Defence, which we understand, but one should not believe that all will be well and that people will live happily ever after, as in the Cinderella story, on foot of sending in a multinational peacekeeping force. The sending of such a force to the area now would be a mammoth task and could not be carried out in an effective way.

Of all the forces participating in UN missions — this has been proven — the Irish soldiers, both men and women, served with great distinction and honour. In the past few days, I heard many tales of personal heroism, not from one member of the Permanent Defence Force telling me how wonderful he was but from members stating how wonderful a colleague or comrade was in a particular battle or strategy at a particular time. The Irish soldiers are ready, willing and able to fulfil their defence duties but not in the present circumstances.

Indiscriminate losses are occurring in both Lebanon and Israel, as Deputy Michael D. Higgins said, but we must remember that it is the force of the powerful against the force of the weak. Lebanon is a sovereign state whose Members of Parliament were elected by the people of that country. This is part of the ongoing peace strategy. It is against all UN stipulations that a sovereign nation would be so ravaged and raped, as it is at present. We understand fully the need to secure the release of the soldiers who have been taken. For how long more are we to have resolutions that are vague, indefinite and do not point the way forward?

I hope this meeting will very much stand as a bridge regarding what could be done. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, has been remarkable in the statements he has made and he has been very definite and stalwart. The sometimes strangulated language of the EU is not the language he has used. He has used straightforward English in straightforward sentences that everybody can understand. The EU, when it got the wherewithal to put the statement together, could not pass over the fact that our Minister, representing our country at that meeting, used straightforward language, clearly stating that we do not want the force of the mighty against the force of the weak.

How can Lebanon rid itself of Hizbollah? Those who blithely tell the Lebanese to rid themselves of Hizbollah forces cannot say how that might be done. It is not an elected force, it is a physical force grouping and to say that can be done in such a manner is glib.

I reiterate my thanks to the Chairman and Deputy Michael D. Higgins for what they have done and the clear motion they have put down. I hope we will find consensus on it because there will be no gain for us to fight at this meeting today. We are here to help, to condemn the civilian deaths in both areas, particularly those of children, and the forcing of women and children into compounds.

The wife of a Lebanese man with Irish citizenship from outside Athlone had gone to visit her in-laws there and she and her two young children could not get out. They were moved from Tyre to Sidon and on to somewhere else. These are biblical placenames but current events are also biblical in their connotations. Thanks to the Department of Foreign Affairs and the people on the ground, that woman got to Damascus and from there to Budapest and finally back to Dublin with her children, accompanied by a carer. We are doing our best but the situation is horrendous. We are a small country but I hope this motion will have an effect.

I would caution against stereotyping. No one has done that because it is of no assistance but here the forces of the mighty are arrayed against the forces of the weak.

I welcome the convening of the committee to discuss recent events in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon.

Events in Gaza, Israel and Lebanon in recent weeks have diminished widespread confidence and hope that there would be stability in the region. So much international effort, humanitarian aid and diplomacy has been invested by many people, not least the Quartet, the UN and this country and other neutral states, that it is deeply depressing to see how quickly so much good has been unravelled, particularly in Lebanon. It has quickly become a war zone, an indication of the volatility of the region and how much permanent attention must be given to this region by the international community.

The ferocity of the Israeli response is by any measure disproportionate to the attacks by Hizbollah on Israel. As the conflict and the response becomes more ferocious, it can only serve to harden the hearts and minds of the ordinary population of Lebanon, where there is political support for Hizbollah, something that must be considered when responding to these affairs. These attacks also have a devastating effect on the infrastructure of the country and the civilian population, with 600 civilian deaths in the past few weeks and massive displacement of ordinary civilians. We equally deplore the tactics used by Hizbollah in hiding behind an innocent civilian population and taking offensive action, thereby exposing its own civilian population to injury and terrible death as seen in the past several weeks. As the violence of the area accelerates, the hopes for peace are fast diminishing. I too was disappointed by the resolution passed at the recent meeting of the Council of Ministers. It only added rhetoric to a situation that requires action rather than condemnation. The Council should have come out with a call for an immediate and sustainable ceasefire. Whatever about the semantics of the type of ceasefire, the main point is surely the capacity of politics to deliver peace and a framework for a political settlement.

The broad parameters of that framework have been worked on for many years. We remember the efforts of the then US President, Bill Clinton, at Camp David. Much of the groundwork resulting from the political and intellectual investment that has gone into the search of peace in the Middle East is still there, such as the Quartet and the road map. The search for peace will never be sustained in the Middle East unless there is a political settlement. We know from our own experience that a political settlement must reach the causes of the conflict and respect the integrity of the mixed, entrenched and, perhaps, irreconcilable differences of the various factions.

Ireland, as a neutral state with fantastic credentials for investment in the Middle East and Lebanon in particular, must advocate at international level the establishment of a permanent secretariat for the Middle East peace process. Over the past few years, the plans for the road map and the efforts of the Quartet, the US and others, have constantly been blown off course by the latest atrocity in the Middle East. There is no feeling that there is a permanent, established, committed political framework, sponsored by all the key players. The EU and the US can, by proxy and with the support of others, help to find an accommodation for the vexed position in the region, as we had in the Northern Ireland peace process. We must draw on our experience of vexed and protracted grievances, based on political disagreements about territory, allegiance and the respect for people's positions, to contribute to the international dialogue in the Middle East peace process.

Humanitarian relief is the most important matter. A ceasefire must be called to allow humanitarian assistance for the 700,000 Lebanese people who have been displaced and are living in terror. A security force must be established by the UN with a permanent secretariat with the rigour, vigour, support and clout of the US. Central to the settlement of the current hostilities and to a sustainable solution in the region is for the US to stop, by way of its relationship with the State of Israel, condoning breaches of international law by Israel. We have seen these over many years but particularly in the past few weeks with its disregard for a civilian population. Robert Fisk, during an interview this week, made the interesting point about the cry that the Lebanese Government must take out Hizbollah and that one could not allow a situation where Hizbollah fires rockets into Israel. He made the very valid point that it would be like asking the Irish Government to "take out" the IRA when it was attacking civilian targets in Northern Ireland and British cities. The Irish Government did not have the capacity to stop it, and it is as if the British Government had started returning fire on the hill farms of Louth, Monaghan and Cavan with missiles. A civilised, democratic nation such as Israel, which numbers the United States among its important strategic friends, simply cannot behave like that, and those of us sympathetic to the sovereignty of Israel, the Palestinians, and Lebanon must be able to stand up, state what is acceptable and call for respect for international norms under the various conventions mentioned by Deputy Michael D. Higgins.

That is all that I shall say for the moment. I thank the Chairman for convening the meeting and reiterate my desire to add to the motion a call that there be a permanent secretariat that will not be blown off course by breaches of any ceasefire that we might achieve or by semantics surrounding its permanency. Such a permanent secretariat could work through a political settlement.

We should add that to the text.

I would appreciate that.

I would like to prepare the wording.

A brief clause.

I admire the ingenuity of the Chairman and his staff in finding a mechanism whereby this might be adopted as a resolution. That also points up the ridiculous situation that we have hog-tied ourselves in this manner. Three days' notice was given, but there should have been four. We must have the machinery to respond to emergencies.

The Senator has only two minutes, and there is no point in his going into that.

There is, and I wish to do so. We should have some mechanism whereby the committee might adopt a resolution as an emergency motion. It is legitimate for me to say that, having complimented the Chairman on his ingenuity.

I am also very glad that Deputy O'Donnell, a former Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, took up a parallel that I have been raising for some time and for which, as a result, I got walloped in certain newspaper columns. If one accepts the legitimacy of the Israeli attacks on south Lebanon, one would also have to accept the legitimacy of possible attacks by the RAF flattening Drogheda, Dundalk and Dublin in response to attacks on Canary Wharf, London, Brighton and Birmingham. That is the irrefutable logic of the situation, and we should take it on board.

That is the scale of what is going on, and there is something deeply obscene about the mass killing of children. Everyone was horrified at the attack on Qana. The tragedy is that this incompetent and weak Israeli Government, striking a macho pose, has effectively squandered the moral capital so terribly accumulated through the Holocaust. I listened to Sanjeev Gupta of Indian radio making much the same point. He had been very sympathetic to the Israelis, but like many other people in India he found himself asking how the descendants of Holocaust victims could do this to other human beings.

We have the Kafkaesque situation that people are ordered out of their villages and then bombed while desperately trying to make their way through the ruined infrastructure. The only ones now left behind are the very old, the very young, and the incapacitated. Apparently it is appropriate to obliterate those people. A factory in the Beka'a Valley that supplied milk for infants has been bombed. What was the point of that? A UN post was also hit, and military analysts now agree that it must have been deliberate. It is a dreadful thing to say, but I believe it was deliberate. As Mr. Tom Clonan said on RTE the other day, the local villages are blacked out because of the attacks on the generating system. The only building with a generator in the area is that UN building which was floodlit. It had enormous UN markings on it and in order to hit it the co-ordinates had to be deliberately put into the computer that controlled the firing of these rockets. They had the precise co-ordinates, in addition to which they were warned ten times. That, in my opinion, makes it pretty likely that it was deliberate. In the event, the only reason could have been to remove witnesses from the type of horror that was happening and that is exactly what the Americans did in Iraq, as regards embedded journalists. Why did the profession of journalism not draw the line at this and the closing of cities such as Fallujah so that these appalling war crimes could be committed? Let us put it on the record that it was the Americans who initiated this process and dismantled the Geneva Convention, the whole works.

I want to ask whether the Chairman could request an answer from the Department of Foreign Affairs to these two questions in support of Deputy Michael D. Higgins's second motion. Deputy Michael D. Higgins and I have been arguing for some time for the operation of the human rights protocol attached to the external association agreement with the European Union. This is a very reasonable thing to do. I would like the committee to write to the Minister for Foreign Affairs to inquire whether these articles have any meaning whatsoever. If they do, could we be told what precisely Israel has to do in order to have them triggered? I would have thought the mass killing of those children in Qana, the bombing of the United Nations building in addition to myriad other actions should have led us to demand that appropriate action be taken.

This is not to be aggressive. It is not this nasty and random idea of a boycott which can easily turn into anti-Semitism. I am not thrilled by some of the letters I have received supporting the position that I have taken because they are rotten with anti-Semitism. I do not know how anybody could describe me as an anti-Semite, in any case. Those who do appear to have overlooked the fact that the Arabs are a Semitic race. I would very much appreciate answers to these questions. Do these articles mean anything and if so, what more does Israel have to do? Where is the breaking point and when are we going to do it? If not, then for God Almighty's sake, let us take these damnable things off the table, take them out of the treaties and let us make it clear that we have no morality and are only interested in money. It is an insult to anybody who believes in human rights to include these provisions in those treaties if they are never going to be operated.

Everything that Olmert and Bush do makes the situation significantly worse. They seem to believe that violence will produce a political solution. It will not and it cannot. It makes matters worse. They have sown dragons' teeth all over the Middle East. Arafat was not acceptable. He was not a partner for peace. The Israelis invented Hamas to undermine him. Then Hamas got elected and was not a partner for peace. Neither is the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Every time they dig their heels in the situation gets worse. The other side ups the ante. We have gone from the PLO and Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas, and now Hizbollah. Will they never learn?

I am very glad the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, indicated there would be some stoppage of some of the worst of the aggressive military materials going through Shannon Airport. However, were we not right, those Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas and the members of this committee who raised queries about the military traffic through Shannon Airport and the CIA rendition flights that came through Shannon on the return leg, although the Government always answered the wrong question on that? Considering the fact that much of these munitions were going through Prestwick without any notice to Prime Minister Tony Blair who is, effectively, President George Bush's poodle, what chance is there that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, God save the mark, would be told what is going through Shannon Airport?

I reiterate that we were very nice in not condemning Ms Condoleezza Rice. I would like the privilege of doing so on behalf of decent people everywhere. I am revolted by her behaviour and her disgusting language. When she talks about what has been happening in the last two weeks as the "birth pangs" of a new Middle East, one wonders whether she is a woman at all. Does she have any womanly — or indeed human — feelings to use the expression "birth pangs" to describe the slaughter of children?

Hizbollah is undeniably awful but, unlike Israel, it is a maverick organisation rather than a Government. Tragically, its rockets have hit Nazareth and elsewhere, including an entirely Arab town where two Palestinian children were killed. We must unanimously adopt these two strong resolutions. I hope this action may have some effect. It would be far more effective if we were to get serious about human rights.

I wish to make a final point. I hear all this tripe about Hizbollah fighters hiding among civilians. Perhaps they do; terrorists did the same in this country. However, it is illegal in international law to target civilians regardless of whether terrorists may be hiding among them. Why should the Israeli and United States Governments sink to the level of these terrorists? We must call it as it is and we must not collaborate with the outrageous aggression that is the declaration of a one-sided war against the people of Lebanon.

I join with my colleagues in thanking the Chairman for arranging this meeting. I also thank Deputy Michael D. Higgins for his strong support for holding the meeting at what is an unusual time for the Oireachtas. Perhaps it will send a powerful message to the public that their public representatives wish to express our horror and outrage at events in the Middle East, notwithstanding our awareness that there are limitations to our ability to influence events.

In this context, I praise the role of the Government, particularly that of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern. Ireland has an honourable tradition of involvement in the Middle East confrontation since our first participation in UNIFIL. The Irish expertise in this area is probably unparalleled. In light of the devastation taking place in south Lebanon, it is somewhat ironic that it was an Irish UN liaison officer who, as Senator Norris observed, made most of the calls to warn the Israelis that they were firing close to the UN post. I understand this man, as a young officer, participated in the UNIFIL force in south Lebanon in the early 1980s, where he and his colleagues were responsible for saving the lives of innocent villagers. Sadly, that village has now been destroyed by the IDF. It is a sad commentary on the morality of events in the area. There must be morality even in war.

In light of the Irish experience, I am firmly of the view — which seems to be shared by other members — that a multinational force is not the answer. I am increasingly of the view that such a force would suit the purposes of the United States and Israel. In the first instance, it would be perceived, not only by those in south Lebanon and by Hizbollah but also by the wider Arab-Muslim community, as yet another force of occupation by the "crusaders". It is extraordinary to hear such language still in use; I believed it was consigned to history but it seems to crop up regularly, particularly from Islamic fundamentalists.

We should, therefore, proceed very cautiously in respect of any suggestion of a multinational force because it will not help resolve the conflict. As we all know, the latter relates to a resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict. It is about the maintenance of the state of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state and an arrangement whereby both can survive within secure borders. This is the key to the overall settlement. In that regard, I applaud Deputy O'Donnell's initiative and the agreement that it be added to the resolution.

I fully support the resolution, which contains nothing that can be perceived as partisan. It accurately reflects the widespread views of not only every Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas but also those of the wider Irish population. Due to our traditional role in Lebanon, this issue, more than any other event on the international stage, has resonated with the Irish population. No child in the country is unaware of where Lebanon is located and there is no family that does not have an indirect or direct connection with soldiers who served there. I understand that somewhat in excess of 30,000 Irish soldiers served in Lebanon. Given that our population is 4 million, this figure has quite a significant impact on the wider Irish community.

I have always adopted the view — it was espoused by the Minister last week — that Israel has a right to exist within secure borders. Sadly, Israel perceives Ireland to be anti-Israeli. The Minister pointed out that whenever he comes into contact with Israeli ministers, they hold this perception. It is sad that the Israelis have perpetuated the sense of injustice and grievance to the point that if one raises one's head above the parapet to rationally debate or criticise Israeli foreign policy, one is immediately targeted as an anti-Semite. Senator Norris has repeatedly made this point because he is so intimately knowledgeable about Israel and has lived there. It is long overdue for this low blow directed at people who have a genuine interest in resolving the problem in the Middle East to be eliminated from discussion. Unfortunately, it is a fact of life.

It is also right and proper that we should record the context in which all of this has happened. The matter to which I refer has already been touched upon by previous speakers. Peace negotiations have effectively been abandoned. There was some movement with President Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas Administration. I am not sure that I totally agree with Deputy Michael D. Higgins's view that the prisoners' agreement was the be all and end all because my understanding was that subsequent to that agreement emanating from the prisons, the leader of Hamas in the Palestinian Assembly retreated considerably from what was contained in the document. I do not wish to engage in semantics. I merely wish to point out that there are tensions within Hamas regarding the way forward. I fully endorse the view that it should be embraced in the context of democracy. If we have encouraged it to become involved in the democratic process, we must accept the will of the people in this regard.

I do not wish to repeat much of what has been said here today but I believe it is right and proper that we, as members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, should condemn, without reservation, the cynical decision by the IDF command to murder four UN personnel. I am putting it as strongly as this and I believe Senator Norris argued along similar lines. I utterly reject the public statement made by the Israeli Foreign Minister in the immediate aftermath of these murders. I understand he stated that it was not part of the Israeli culture. My understanding is that the manner in which the architecture of decision-making in Israel operates is that the cabinet makes political decisions but once a decision is taken to go to war or mount a military offensive, the IDF military command takes over and there is no further political involvement. I share the doubts expressed by others but prefer to express them in stronger terms and state that this was a cynical attempt to eliminate a UN presence in south Lebanon in order to ensure that the IDF could continue its campaign of killing innocent civilians.

The IDF is killing innocent civilians. Deputy Michael D. Higgins is right in stating that every international convention makes it absolutely clear that irrespective of whether the combatants are hiding among or using civilians as protection, there is no justification for the other side to target civilian areas for the purpose of eliminating those combatants.

A problem was alluded to, namely, that Israel, a sovereign state, has signed international conventions. It can be brought to account irrespective of whether it or the United States recognise the International Criminal Court. The weight of international morality will call for a day of reckoning in respect of what has happened in recent weeks, particularly the atrocious massacre of innocent children at Qana. Those affected by that incident are crying out for justice and I hope the international community will have the courage to ensure that someone is brought to account via the United Nations.

The IDF is operating on the basis that this is a war of survival for Israel. I reiterate that we condemn the taking of innocent civilian life, including the 60 or 70 Israelis killed by Hizbollah rocket attacks. More than 80% of the Israeli population supports the military offensive in south Lebanon and Israel's strongest supporter in the United Nations, the United States, will continue to veto any attempt to limit its assertion of self-defence. While the UN will be impotent in that regard, Israel will be supported by the House of Representatives in the United States. Last week, it was reported that 410 members of the House of Representatives voted in support of Israel's current military campaign in south Lebanon and only eight members dissented. It was not widely disseminated in our media, but most of us know of the vote and the result of it should be placed on the record.

From speaking with American political contacts, I am aware that any attempt by the congressmen and congresswomen concerned by what is happening in south Lebanon to diverge from supporting Israel would result in a hammering at the polls. The vote was taken with the congressional elections in view. It is despicable and morally cowardly of American politicians not to take a stand on this issue and convey to Israel, which they unambiguously support, that there must be a time to say stop. This is a condemnation of people with whom we are friendly.

Reference was made to the destruction of infrastructure in the Gaza Strip — the dirty, nasty little war that has slipped from the media headlines. Innocent Palestinians are regularly being killed. I do not know whether harassing and reducing the morale of Palestinians while the eyes of the world are diverted towards Lebanon is part of the Israeli Government's agenda. It says that it was elected on a peaceful agenda and supported by a majority of secular Israelis seeking peace between the two entities. However, there seems to be little evidence of peace.

In the initial stages of the IDF's response to the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit, it destroyed bridges and, in particular, a power station, thereby wiping out the electricity of 700,000 Palestinians. Being without what we take for granted, such as refrigeration, must be a horrendous experience in Palestine's climate. Ironically, the power station was funded by the US Government, which will probably need to rebuild it. Has Israel lost the plot? It has certainly lost the public relations war.

I support the motion. It is imperative that the committee, the members of which represent all parties and none, as well as the wider community, should publicly state where it stands in respect of this issue. We must indicate that there should be an immediate ceasefire and all attempts to resolve this matter should be made at the UN, to which Ireland must look as the arbiter of international morality and decision-making. As a small country, Ireland has limited influence over what is happening. Hopefully, saner minds will prevail and there will be a start to the ending of hostilities in south Lebanon. A move can be made by incorporating those fighting the proxy war, namely, Syria and Iran. It is essential they are involved in any future discussions emanating from a ceasefire. Syria and Iran are already fighting this war by supporting, resourcing and financing Hizbollah.

The point made about Lebanon being a victim is absolutely right. It does not have the capacity to carry out the UN resolution on disarming Hizbollah. It may not be widely known that a state within a state operates in Lebanon, particularly in south Lebanon. That is the real problem. Hizbollah has developed itself to such an extent that it is seen by the majority of the people of south Lebanon as almost a legitimate government. It provides hospitals, education, welfare offices, post offices, a court system and administration of justice, which is not widely disseminated in the media. It will be a real problem for the international community to address the fact that within the legitimate sovereign state of Lebanon is another proxy state.

I will read out the clause Deputy O'Donnell has put together. It states:

Calls for the Irish Government to advocate at EU and UN level the establishment of an internationally sponsored peace process with a permanent secretariat to bring together all sides including Israel and the United States for negotiations. This process can build on existing peace efforts in the region such as the road map. The peace process should have an eminent independent chair or chairs sponsored and funded by the UN and the Quartet and should be the instrument for agreeing a permanent political settlement which reaches the causes of the conflict.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. I had hoped the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs would have met this week to discuss this matter. I submitted a motion to it along the same lines as that which Deputy Michael D. Higgins proposed here, although perhaps not as well put together. The intention of Deputy Higgins's motion must be supported. If it is done in a statement few people will oppose it.

I welcome the stance the Government has taken up to now, although it should have gone further in demanding Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. As other speakers stated, what the Israeli defence forces are doing in Palestine, particularly in the Gaza Strip, must also be borne in mind and kept to the fore in any resolutions or statements we issue. It is included in the statement under discussion.

The actions of the Israeli defence forces in both southern Lebanon and in Gaza are akin to communal punishment. Last night Israel attacked an area north of Beirut so it has gone beyond southern Lebanon. As other speakers stated, it is disproportionate. It is aimed at creating a buffer zone. It is akin to a scorched earth policy through which the entirety of southern Lebanon is sanitized. The effects that would have on the civilian population is horrendous. We can see the huge number of people displaced with no prospects of being able to return home or to work. They have no prospect of any life in the near future other than a refugee camp elsewhere in Lebanon.

I reiterate the call I made last year that the EuroMed trade agreement, which concerns Israel, should be ended or suspended. That should have been done before now so that the EU could send a message to Israel that it is willing to use whatever little influence or power it has in the region. Ireland, which has a good record in the region, should be to the fore in the demands for same. We should also try to bring the other EU states on board in this regard. If they are unwilling to come on board, so be it. We should, at the very least, attempt to ensure that Article 2 on human rights compliance, which was inserted into the EuroMed agreement, is adhered to. What is the point in inserting provisions on the suspension of the agreement or the imposition of sanctions if the EU, as a world power, is unwilling to trigger such mechanisms in the event of so many people being killed?

There are other actions Ireland can take. We need to do more within the UN to accelerate the demand for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of troops and the release of prisoners of this conflict, namely, Israelis being held by the Palestinians and those captured by Israeli forces in recent weeks. We must also address the issues relating to Palestine.

We live in hope that Israel will be brought to account for its actions. However, history shows that it was not brought to account in respect of previous attacks on refugee camps in Lebanon and on other targets elsewhere. I hope that world opinion will ensure that Israel will be held to account on this occasion and that, as Deputy O'Donnell suggested, we will put together some type of peace process in the region. We have a peace process in Ireland which, in the main, has been successful, though it is faltering. In that context, there are many lessons we can share with others. We must ensure that this happens.

While not wanting to repeat the points made by others, we must also ensure that we go further than what was outlined yesterday by the Government regarding the doubling of aid to the region. Aid for the Palestinians should be given to the Palestinian Authority, which was elected to represent the people. We should not play with words regarding the Palestinians. Such action would send a message that we, and other European countries, are willing to take a firm stance on these matters.

I thank the Chairman for convening this meeting and I congratulate Deputy Michael D. Higgins on his initiative in proposing the resolution. It is timely and important and demonstrates that a joint committee can count for something within the Oireachtas.

I unreservedly believe that we should call for an immediate ceasefire. People interested in human life and human beings should do so. The niceties of diplomacy should be set aside and forgotten. What is happening in Lebanon is morally indefensible, politically unwise and humanly incredible.

I have heard mention of a sustainable peace. What nonsense. One cannot have a sustainable peace unless one deals with the root causes of injustice and not simply the perceived causes. This is not only about the security of Israel. How secure must be a Palestinian child going to school? How secure must be such a child to live in the Gaza Strip? How secure can be children in Qana if they are asleep with their mothers or grandmothers and are then bombed to death? How secure will their bereaved relatives feel when that happens? Sustainable peace is merely a play on words.

The appalling murder of innocent victims is one aspect of the horrendous killings being committed minute by minute. I am amazed that some world leaders claim they have to allow the killings to continue until a sustainable peace is reached. In other words, peace is measured as a proportion of the number of two year olds being bombed at night. How can one be proportionate when children who do not understand war and mothers who have no influence on war are bombed because they might be first cousins of Hizbollah members? As Senator Norris remarked, if the British army had pursued the same policy in Ireland, neither Drogheda nor Wexford would be safe.

The way in which the rest of the world is standing by undermines people's belief in what Deputy O'Donnell calls the capacity of politics. I cannot understand how the minority opinion of two world leaders can oppress the majority of the world. The ordinary people I meet believe that what is going on is wrong. The talk about disproportionality reminds me of Mr. de Valera's famous reply to Mr. Churchill after the Second World War, when the latter implied that those with power can do whatever they like. With regard to the destruction of infrastructure, I recall a very good Irish teacher, Micheál Tóibín — father of the famous author, Colm Tóibín — who told us about the slash and burn technique used by the British many years ago. During the Nazi occupation of France, the Germans destroyed whole villages where resistance fighters had put their heads above the parapet. Will that be the model of peace for the Israeli army and Hizbollah? While I do not have much respect for the latter, it does not have the capacity to inflict as much damage as the former.

When a world leader stands up to apologise for the death of children while also promising to send a few more bombs, a mockery is made of politics. Yesterday, Tony Blair talked about a renaissance. We need a renaissance in the United Nations, so that it can assert itself effectively. Do UN resolutions or the Geneva Convention count for anything? In 2002, while I was still managing the Wexford hurling team, a student visiting the Houses of the Oireachtas expressed surprise at seeing the Wexford manager in the Dáil. He asked me what I was doing and, when I told him I was working, he replied that nobody worked in the Oireachtas. Unfortunately, that impression is held by a lot of people.

Subsequently, I coached the student's team, Na Fianna, and we were lucky enough to have a say in the Dublin championship. If that young man watches Sky or RTE tonight, he will assume nobody works at EU or UN level because these organisations cannot even call in one voice for an end to the murders. The renaissance has to address breaches of international law and the ignoring of UN directives because peace will only be achieved when that happens. I concur with the many members who want an immediate ceasefire and who are not particularly interested in niceties of diplomacy when these get in the way of peace.

I support the motion as proposed and subsequently amended by Deputy Michael Higgins. It is even-handed and encompasses all the essential points. It does not attribute blame to one side. It addresses the issue globally, as it should be addressed and therein lies its strength. There is always a danger that we see the situation from one side only. It is critical that we recognise that a number of events have occurred in recent years in that region. Nobody fears or attends to UN resolutions because there are no consequences of failure to adhere to them. That weakens the strength and depth of the resolutions, so nothing happens there. Constituent bodies that have varying degrees of support for either side for various reasons will not give total support to the thrust of a motion such as this. As Deputy Allen said, the EU must re-examine itself. It is divided internally and cannot be completely loyal to a resolution because various constituent bodies have particular views. The EU is equally weak and indecisive and nobody fears or respects its views. This was the case during the Balkan war. The EU was equally ineffective in a dispute alongside and within its borders because various EU countries had a history from which they could not emerge without being seen to be disloyal to their former compatriots. As a result others had to take a hand in it.

The situation is not simple. I have said this before, as has everybody else, and my colleagues here are more expert on this issue than I. The issue is growing on a daily basis, born of frustration, fear, tradition, hatred, religious bigotry and politics. It has all the components of a cauldron, and sadly that is what it is. The analogy that has been drawn between this situation and that of the IRA in Ireland is unsound. No matter who was in Government, never in the history of this State did the Irish Defence Forces defer to anybody in terms of who was in control of the State. There was never any doubt about that. The situation in the Lebanon is different in that there is an army within an army, or two armies in a state and the state cannot function independently of that second army. That is a peculiar situation and is not analogous to what happened in this country. Our Defence Forces would be annoyed if people saw them in the same light. They would not and will never defer to any third party, and rightly so.

I am not anti-Semitic and neither is anybody else here. In such situations it is our right to condemn and call for a cessation of the intrusions by the Israelis over the last number of days regardless of their fears. Somebody asked how the descendents of the Holocaust could do this. I suggest that we read our history carefully. Fear of being isolated without friends in an area where some powerful and hostile neighbours surround them could motivate people to take actions they would not normally take. I do not excuse what the Israelis have done. We should remember every so often that before the Holocaust, various scribes recorded the events throughout Europe. For example, Mr. William Shirer wrote repeatedly about what was happening, and nobody paid any attention. I am not making an excuse for the Israelis but fear could be a cause of their behaviour. Iran, a powerful country with a population of 60 million, is an interested party and Israel is very isolated, its friends in the region being much smaller. It would be better for the EU and the UN to produce a resolution that could be respected worldwide. I do not know how that would be followed up, however.

Members have discussed EU battle groups. If we are to participate in battle groups we will have to increase the strength of our Defence Forces because it will not be possible to make a meaningful contribution on the basis of their present strength.

Far be it from me to advise the Israeli Government but it is rapidly losing the public relations war. The atrocities, and I use the word advisedly, perpetrated in the past few days are unforgivable in terms of the loss of life of innocent bystanders, including mothers and children. The innocent are always the greatest victims in a war. I hope that the influence of small countries such as Ireland, including that of this humble joint committee, can be brought to bear on the consciousness of all those involved in this race to the bottom, to convince them to acknowledge the outrage of the outside world and bring the conflict to a satisfactory conclusion. They should enter into negotiations whether they be long-term or short-term, because anything is better than what is happening at the moment.

I welcome this meeting. It would have been deplorable not to have met given the situation in the Lebanon, not that anything anybody says at this committee will have any impact on it. It is important that we express our condemnation, particularly of the deplorable attacks on civilians in the Lebanon.

I expressed the view at the last meeting of this committee, two weeks ago, that the killing of approximately 200 civilians constituted a war crime. Now the figure amounts to some 700 civilians and rising. It is important to repeat our condemnation of all attacks on civilians, none of which can be justified and all of which are criminal acts, no matter where or when they occur. The deliberate targeting of civilians in any war is a war crime. The problem has been that war crimes have never been addressed, except in some particular circumstances. When a state which has overwhelming military superiority uses that superiority with callous and vindictive disregard for the lives of children and the elderly its actions can only be described properly as "war crimes" and should be responded to as such.

However, that will not happen, because the perpetrators are the US and Israel. The aeroplanes which bombed the UNIFIL outpost and the bombs which killed children and the elderly in Qana were deliberately supplied by the US and continue to be so. Nothing orchestrated by the US and its puppet states, as one of which I have always regarded Israel, will be met with a response. I have always regarded Israel as a puppet state of the United States. Anything which it does will of course get no response.

It seems that the objective of the current Israeli onslaught, which does not appear to be achieving any military objective or advantage, is simply to punish the population in Lebanon for the actions of the Hizbollah movement. What particularly surprises me about this is that Israeli public opinion seems largely to support the action, no matter what atrocity happens or how many children or elderly people are killed. From all the reports we get, it seems that Israeli public opinion supports these actions.

I will not attempt to understand the motivation of those who have been described as the descendants of the Holocaust, and why they have come full circle from being the victims to being the oppressors. The reality is that what the IDF is doing is totally indefensible. I am glad to support Deputy Michael D. Higgins and his statement condemning outright what is occurring in Lebanon today.

I am a substitute for a member of this committee and I am glad to be present today. I also support the statement made by Deputy Michael D. Higgins. There was a piece on last night's news about an exhibition which opened in Dublin yesterday showing the progress made from previous destruction in Lebanon. The pictures replicate what is happening currently.

On the news we can see bad enough destruction of buildings and monuments, but there is also human destruction. We should put on record that all this is coming about because two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped. It is nothing less than savagery. We can see through television reports the destruction of different areas which have been bombed into submission.

Lebanon would have close links with Ireland. It is one of the countries in which we would have had a large contingent of troops. Relatives of mine served there. There was a close link between the people and the Irish troops, both gardaí and Army personnel, which served there. Progress was made up to very recently. We could see that as some of our troops were withdrawn, and it was unnecessary to have them there. Significant progress was made in the country over recent years. What has happened over the past three or four weeks is nothing short of appalling.

There might have been some indication that the Government was saying one thing here and something else abroad. That is not the situation. The Government's position, as outlined by the Taoiseach, is a call for an immediate ceasefire on all sides, which is urgently required. That is the Government's position, and we should be united in our resolve to play whatever part we can on the issue.

Deputy O'Donnell made a point about Camp David in her contribution. We thought progress was being made at Camp David on the issues of Palestine and the Middle East in general. We can see how matters have gone off the rails. The four United Nations personnel who were killed were representing us. They could have been Irish people. I am appalled at the attitude of the Israeli Government, and how easily it was being accepted. It was indicated that there would be an investigation, but the commanding officer had given six warnings on the dangers. Women, children and the elderly are closest to us in this situation. We have seen entire families, mothers with seven, eight or nine children, wiped out. This is unacceptable.

We must be conscious of our role in this. Nations closer to the situation in the Lebanon have been unable to exert any influence. We should speak with one voice on this issue and the motion before us, with the amendment put forward by Deputy Liz O'Donnell, gives an opportunity to do so. This situation must not be allowed to continue and we call for an immediate ceasefire to allow proper negotiations to begin.

We have a further proposal from Deputy Bernard Allen for an addition. We will have to stop making additions at this point

I did indicate at the start that I wanted to make this addition.

I know. Deputy Allen wishes to add:

condemns the seizures of water resources in the West Bank and elsewhere, in particular water from Mount Hermon which stands at the junction of Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Palestine;

that the UN must establish a permanent specialised team to control and ensure fair distribution of all water resources; and

that consideration be given to legal action against Israel seeking compensation for its killing of UN personnel and civilian population and destruction of facilities.

As for the issue of water rights, it would be wise to make this addition in a manner consistent with the change made at the suggestion of Deputy Liz O'Donnell. Water rights have been studied by such human rights groups within Israel as B'Tselem and others. A forward-looking person will recognise this issue as a future source of conflict and it is an element in creating peace. I support the addition of this issue to the motion.

While I support the broad thrust of the motion, the text could be condensed somewhat and made a little more concise. I say this because I would hate to see the motion diluted by becoming overly long.

We can agree to that.

That is agreed. There are two more speakers.

I subscribe to the sentiments expressed in the motion before the committee and to many of the points raised by its members. The call for a ceasefire is essential and I support Deputy O'Donnell's call for the establishment of a permanent peace process secretariat. This is something for the Government to pursue at UN level.

Many speakers have alluded to deficiencies and weaknesses within the UN, and undoubtedly they exist, but we should also recognise that without it the world would be a much poorer place. We should address these weaknesses and try to strengthen the organisation. It has struck me that the veto is often used for narrow national interests, rather than for wider global regulation of countries and conflicts. We might pioneer a change in the UN Security Council's veto system so that instead of a single nation out of 15 being able to exercise that power it could take three out of 15, or 20%, for it to be effective.

The area of war crimes has been touched on by many speakers, especially strongly by Deputy Tony Gregory. This should be reflected in the statement that is to be made. There should be a call that those who commit crimes against humanity should be held to account subsequently. In this regard, the failure of countries to subscribe to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court should not, in any way, inhibit us or other interested countries from ensuring that those who commit such crimes are brought to justice. I am not only talking about Lebanon. Such crimes are being committed in Gaza in Palestine and in Iraq, where there have been terrible incidents of people being shot in their homes and of women being raped, which is totally unacceptable. The conduct of war must be policed and regulated and people must be held to account.

I support the Chairman's earlier comment that the stance taken by the Taoiseach and, in particular, the Minister for Foreign Affairs should be supported in any statement issued by this committee. The Minister has shown courage and leadership, which are necessary, and he is not alone in the European Union in that regard. While everybody might not subscribe to the line taken by the French Foreign Minister, he has taken a particularly strong stance and initiatives which warrant support. That should also be reflected in any statement.

I commend the Chairman for holding this meeting, reacting to the situation and for not leaving this debate until after the summer recess. I commend Deputy Michael D. Higgins on an excellent statement which will be agreed unanimously by this committee. I agree it should not be extended too far or go into too much detail. However, some of the amendments, particularly that put forward by Deputy O'Donnell, are constructive.

The Government, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs have been strong in calling for a ceasefire. It is quite clear where this country stands. However, as a member of the European Union, we could not get our way and a compromise resolution was agreed. Nevertheless, the stand of the Government, which was conveyed by the Taoiseach on 30 July, was very clear.

The genesis of this issue is Palestine. There is no question but that the fact Palestine has not been given proper recognition as an independent state is the kernel of the issue. The abduction of the soldier on the border by Hamas led to retaliation and the attack on the power station in Gaza. Hizbollah then reacted by abducting soldiers. The whole crisis goes back to the situation in Palestine where the people are oppressed by Israel. As the Chairman knows, Members of both Houses visited the region last year. When one sees the wall dividing the region and settlers moving into areas, one realises there will be no settlement there until the issue of Palestine is settled and until the Americans talk to the Iranians and the Syrians because they are the main players.

There is no question but that Israel is another state of the United States. The US provides loans for all its armaments. We also should bear in mind that Israel is a nuclear state which puts it in a very strong position in the region.

The committee is preparing a very powerful statement, particularly in respect of the European Union and trade. That issue has not really been pushed before and it is contained in this statement. I fully subscribe to it because it is the way to get a reaction.

We have sacrificed 50 of our troops in bringing peace to Lebanon. Troops were withdrawn on the basis that Lebanon was making tremendous progress. If we commit troops again, we must bear in mind the sacrifice made in the region. I commend our observers there, particularly our officer, Lieutenant Colonel Molloy, who has been very active. I fully subscribe to the motion and the sooner it is released the better so that people know where we stand.

Like Deputy Dan Wallace, I am not a permanent member of the committee. Deputy Mulcahy asked me if I could represent him here and express his strong concern regarding what is happening in southern Lebanon.

I join other speakers in complimenting the Chairman on convening this meeting. He did not just stand idly by. It is an important gesture that had to be made to send out a message.

I strongly support Deputy Michael D. Higgins's motion and the addendum made by Deputy O'Donnell. I also support the addition of the question regarding water rights, about which most people are not aware but which is one of the considerable difficulties involved. Its inclusion will also help.

It was important that Deputy Michael D. Higgins, in his motion and in his contribution, did not take political sides. He couched the motion in humanitarian terms. Individual members will support one side or the other. As Senator Leyden indicated, we can discuss the complicated situation that exists but no one could disagree with the wording of the motion. It is a straightforward, simple message that the killing of civilians must stop immediately and we support that strongly.

As almost an addendum to that in respect of the issue of the strengthened international peace force, I heard a lengthy interview last week with one of those who would be described as an expert on it, namely, the former Irish commander in the area. He had significant concerns about strengthening and increasing the numbers of that force. He asked some logical questions, namely, what could they do, how would they react in situations and what would be their role. Prior to that, I would have quickly supported the concept on the grounds of humanitarian help. However, he outlined the strategic difficulties that could follow such a move and put grave doubts in my mind that peace could be enforced. That is worth remembering.

Returning to the immediate difficulty, we are concerned with bringing about a ceasefire and, as previous speakers stated, stopping the killing of civilians. While we are not just counting bodies, the killing of the four UN personnel came as a huge shock to people all over the world but particularly the Irish, who identify with the areas of what our veterans refer to as "the Leb". We saw the difficult and dangerous situation that existed there and it certainly brought home to us the complicated nature of the issue.

The message should be sent out clearly and unequivocally. I would not like too many addendums to it. I agree with the two points that were added. The permanent secretariat would be important to try to drive things forward. The message is loud and clear: stop the killing of civilians. The latter must be done immediately.

We have had full participation, with 21 members present and 16 speakers offering. There has been great concern and people are appalled by recent developments. We can agree the statement unanimously. There is no dissension from that. We will have a copy of it shortly. It has been delayed because of the need to add the addendums to it.

I thank all members for contributing. I know I am speaking for all the members in repeating that we hope for a speedy and peaceful resolution to the conflict and we urge all sides to consider restraint and engage in dialogue to avoid further deterioration and loss of life.

It is clear that we have always supported the two-state solution. We do not mention it again today because there are other pressing issues. We want immediate action on those issues and that is what we will put in the statement.

Each of us is motivated by the need to prevent further loss of life. Can the committee convey its sympathy to both the Lebanese Parliament and the Israeli Knesset if it is to be even-handed? We all indicated during the debate that we deplore the loss of life that has taken place but it has been normal practice for the committee to convey its sympathy when such incidents have occurred. It would be appropriate in the circumstances but I will be guided by the Chairman.

I support Senator Mooney. Following the deaths of UNIFIL soldiers, the UN Secretary General should also be included. I thank the Chairman and the committee secretariat for organising this meeting at such short notice. It was very successful.

We will do that.

The joint committee went into private session at 1.45 p.m. and adjourned sine die at 1.55 p.m.