Hague gets tough with Israel

A flotilla activist is reunited with his family
A flotilla activist is reunited with his family

By Ian Dunt

William Hague has ratcheted up the criticism of Israel's strike against an aid ship, saying the episode went beyond "what was warranted and proportionate".

The hardening of the foreign secretary's rhetoric reflects a growing international outrage at the events on Monday and a resolve in the Foreign Office to clarify the government's view of the Israeli action.

Mr Hague complained that the government had not been granted full access to the 37 Brits who had been on the aid ship and called on Israel to rectify the situation.

"We have expressed our disappointment to the Israeli government about the levels of preparedness on their part and the fact we have not yet been given full information about British nationals detained, and access to all of them," he said in an urgent statement to the Commons this afternoon.

"We are urgently asking the Israelis rectify the situation within hours."

Speaking for Labour, shadow foreign secretary David Miliband also voiced tough criticism of the Israeli action.

"We join the international condemnation of an action which was not self-defence but defence of a failed policy," Mr Miliband said.

The developments come as the first batch of activists detained in the aftermath of Monday's strike were deported to Jordan.

Over 120 activists have now been released, most of them from Muslim countries which do not recognise Israel.

Nine people died when Israeli forces attacked a ship carrying aid to the Gaza Strip on Monday.

The international condemnation which followed the attack is piling pressure on Israel to end its blockade of Gaza.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said the Gaza situation had become "unsustainable", giving the clearest indication yet that Israel's closest ally would press for an end to the blockade.

Speaking to the Today programme this morning, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said: "Britain will do its role to urge the peace process, but also to tell the Israeli government this blockade is neither justified nor sustainable."

Mr Hague said Israel was now under the greatest pressure it had ever faced to scrap the blockade.

"We will all have to work together to find the mechanism to allow that to happen, to ensure that there is such access to Gaza while not access for the smuggling in of weapons into Gaza," he said.

"The important thing above all is that they lift the restrictions that are counter productive from Israel's point of view - that are not contributing to Israel's security, that are quite probably damaging to her long-term security.

"So I think today they a stronger international demand for that than they have ever faced."

A further 200 Turks have now been released from prison, it is understood, and will soon be returned home. Turkey, Israel's firmest ally in the Muslim world, has spearheaded criticism of the strike and called back its ambassador.

In a new development, another ship has set sail with the intention of bypassing the Israeli blockade. The boat holds five Irish nationals including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire.

Their presence prompted Irish prime minister Brian Cowen to demand the safe arrival of the boat.

"If any harm comes to any of our citizens it will have the most serious consequences," he told parliament yesterday.


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