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Mr. Straw: We all share my hon. Friend's concern about the need for accuracy in targeting. I can tell her, because I have witnessed the process, that a huge amount

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of care is being taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, by those who advise him and provide us with legal advice, and by those who do the same in the United States, to ensure that the targeting is on military and terrorist assets and not on civilian targets. I emphasise that, so far as is possible, civilian casualties and deaths are being avoided. We have had to say from the outset—I am afraid to say that this is a dismal truth of war—that one cannot avoid civilian deaths and casualties altogether when military action is being undertaken, but happily the numbers so far have been low.

I, too, have heard the reports that an International Red Cross centre may have been hit. I understand from a further ICRC report that one person has been injured—the only report of injury or death so far—and that no food or medicine was contained in that depot.

Mr. Paul Marsden rose

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) rose

Mr. Straw: I am afraid that I must make progress. I have to make two more sets of remarks before I allow others to speak.

The broader objective of our campaign is to eliminate terrorism as a force in international affairs. That involves strengthening domestic legislation and international co-operation against terrorists and their funds. It will involve sustained pressure on those states that aid and abet terrorism. My right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary gave the House details of their proposals yesterday.

United Nations Security Council resolution 1373 is the centrepiece of those global efforts. It represents a significant crackdown on those who fund and provide safe havens for terrorists. Britain, as chair of the Security Council committee that oversees the implementation of resolution 1373, will be playing a key role in its success. We are now supported by the broadest possible range of countries—east and west, north and south, Muslim and non-Muslim—in our endeavours.

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the most widely representative of the organisations in the Arab and Muslim world, has, in a constructive and helpful statement, reaffirmed its condemnation of the terrorist attacks, and acknowledged the need to take action against the perpetrators.

As so many people of the Muslim faith have said, we are not at war with Islam. Nor are we seeking a clash of civilisations. Islam is part of our civilisation, and Muslims are part of our communities, and a part of what was attacked on 11 September.

Bin Laden seeks to turn the Islamic world against the west. We are, as the whole world is, determined not to let him succeed. The terrorists are the enemies of Islam, just as they are the enemies of everyone everywhere else.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: I apologise for not doing so, but I must make progress.

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We all suffer from the threat of terrorism, and we all have an interest in removing it. The Government and people of Pakistan recognise this overwhelmingly. I praise their courage, and the courage of President Musharraf, in taking a firm stand against terror and supporting this military action.

To pick up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), we have to resolve the conflicts that terrorists exploit for their own ends. At a time when the rest of the world is coming together in the fight against terrorism, the fighting has, sadly, continued in parts of the middle east. Our efforts to secure a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement in that region are therefore more important than ever.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Straw: I am sorry, I must make progress.

Those efforts were important before 11 September as well. The Mitchell plan has been on the table for months. Resolving the middle east peace process has been a top priority for this country, the United States and the European Union since long before that.

Yesterday the Prime Minister and I discussed the way forward with President Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will come only through a political process that implements "land for peace", delivers security for Israel within recognised borders, brings an end to occupation and leads to a viable, democratic and peaceful Palestinian state. It is time the political will existed on both sides to turn that into a reality, and it is time the men of violence had the wisdom to recognise that a concession which helps secure a lasting peace for the children of the region is not a concession at all but an immense gain.

We all want peace, but sometimes there can be no peace until we have fought for it. I understand—indeed, I share—the fears that military action evokes, but the action that we are taking with our allies is designed to make the world safer, not more dangerous. By far the greater danger would lie in leaving the threat of terrorism unchallenged.

Military action is essential to avert terrorist attacks, but it is not the only part of the fight against terrorism. Terrorism thrives best where conflict, poverty, racism and exploitation have brought about the collapse of government and of civil society. The surest way of defeating these evils is to build a more inclusive world, where the cries of the children of Afghanistan, of Sierra Leone, of Kosovo and of the middle east do not go unheard.

Because it is inspired by this vision, the coalition today is stronger and more focused than ever. It has united countries which once found it hard to see any community of interest.

We are neither deterred nor dismayed by the continuing threat of the terrorists, because we know that we are building a better, safer world, where freedom from fear may at last become a reality for all.

4.19 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): I very much welcome today's debate and I thank the Foreign Secretary for his speech. Once again, in these rather strange circumstances, I find myself in agreement with most of it.

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It is more than a week since the House last had the chance to consider and deliberate on the events in Afghanistan and their impact on, and implications for, the wider international community. In the past nine days, a large amount of explosive has been dropped on specific targets in Afghanistan. We are told that it has achieved a significant "degrading" of the terrorist facilities of al-Qaeda and of the Taliban Government and their internal communications.

The targeted softening up of the capabilities of the terrorists and their sponsors must be the first phase of the fight to bring them to book. Today, we are told—perhaps we will be told more later—that the airborne assault has become even more targeted.

The Foreign Secretary has set out the reasons behind the present offensive, which we support, but in reporting events there is an innate danger against which we must guard. Constant televised images of smart bombs and pinpoint destruction can give the impression of some distant and disassociated war game in which human life and limb are not involved. Dramatic pictures of bombed ruins claimed by the Taliban to be scenes of mass civilian casualties conversely convey the appearance of indiscriminate attacks on innocent victims.

As so often at times of conflict, the reality lies somewhere in between. It is important that Members deal with the realities and not the distorted images. The grim but inevitable realities and the consequences of any military conflict are that people will get hurt. An even grimmer but no less avoidable reality is that civilian casualties and deaths will occur, however intense the efforts to avoid them. In the attacks of the past week, every attempt has been made to avoid innocent or non-military victims but, as so often is the case in battle, it does not always work. Sometimes when we say that, however, we are accused of callousness or cynicism.

We must never diminish the value or importance of any innocent life lost or any innocent victim injured. We must ensure that everything viable is done to avoid that. At the same time, we must never pretend that such tragic events can be completely prevented. We must always feel enormous grief at civilian casualties and deaths, but at the same time we cannot be deterred from doing what is right. As the Secretary of State pointed out today, the objectives are clear and they justify what is happening.

The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned our armed forces, and we join in the tributes that he paid to them. They and their families are very much in our thoughts and prayers at this time.

Mr. Dalyell: The right hon. Gentleman asserts that the objectives of bombing are so clear. Could the House hear from him exactly what they are?

Mr. Ancram: I am coming to that part of my speech, so I will deal with that matter directly if the hon. Gentleman will allow me a moment.

It is important that every time we debate these issues we remind ourselves of the objectives. I have only just seen the document that the Foreign Secretary laid in the Library. I regret that the House did not get earlier sight of it, as it might have informed this debate. In my brief and hurried reading I discovered that it outlines the objectives at greater length than I intended to do on behalf of the Conservative party.

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I believe that the objectives are, first, to bring Osama bin Laden to justice and to destroy his al-Qaeda organisation. The second is the longer term but equally essential eradication of international terrorism and the very real threats implicit in it. The third is to enable the people of Afghanistan to regain their rights and to live in peace, not least by a determined effort to free them from the threat of famine that confronts so many of them.

The Secretary of State will tell me if those three objectives are in line with those in his document. According to my reading, I believe that he would agree with them.


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