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5.6 pm

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): I support the Government's action to fight international terrorism. That means support for the military action, support for the strong attempts to destroy terrorist bases and networks, making great effort to minimise civilian casualties, and support for the action to break up international terrorist networks, which are passing both cash and information around the world with the sole objective of carrying out unacceptable terrorism. The work of the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be welcomed and praised in that respect. He is making efforts on the international scene to ensure that those networks are destroyed.

That campaign is difficult and will be long lasting, but it is essential that we recognise the uniquely lethal nature of current international terrorism. It knows no borders, it knows no boundaries. Its aim is to maximise the mass killing of civilians as a religious imperative, bringing personal salvation—activities fuelled by hatred. It might be as well to note the statement in the official Palestinian Authority daily published on the morning of 11 September this year:

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The suicide bombers to whom that publication referred on that fatal morning were the suicide bombers who had been attacking and killing the civilians of Israel.

We have taken a significant step forward in meeting the international threat of terrorism with the passing of United Nations Security Council resolution 1373 on 28 September. That resolution stressed the importance of states not perpetuating terrorism themselves, and not directing or organising the targeting of civilians with the aim of mass destruction. This country has an important position in taking that forward. We are chairing the committee that will be in charge of implementing the resolution. It gives us in this country a continuing important role in dealing with that major issue.

We, and indeed the international community, must also face the fact that Iran and Syria are the sponsors of terrorism that fuels major conflicts, including ones that have been referred to today. They fund and support groups such as Hamas. Indeed, in May 2000 a new headquarters for Hamas was opened in Damascus. Iran and Syria also support Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—groups dedicated to wrecking any possible chance for peace in the middle east and bent on the destruction and elimination of Israel.

Let us remember what the former Hezbollah leader, Hussein Massawi, said:

I urge all those who believe that the heart of the conflict and the savage international terrorism that we now face is something to do with finding a just solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians to take heed of what is happening around them: the terrorist groups funded by, among others, Iran and Syria are dedicated to the destruction of peace and the destruction of Israel, and after that they will carry on to destroy more and more.

It is essential that we have a just peace in the middle east and that we see Israel and Palestine as independent states, living in peace, side by side in agreed secure boundaries. I want to see Jerusalem a shared capital. I want to see the end of settlements. I want to see land exchange and a solution to the refugee problem, to include the resettlement of refugees and compensation. I want to see the realisation of the vision propounded by Shimon Peres, that most courageous Israeli leader, in his book "The New Middle East", published in about 1994. He spoke about a vision of economic co-operation throughout the middle east, with Israel and Palestine, and other Arab states, working together.

When Barak made his proposals for a solution to the conflict only a year ago, and then later at Taba, it was the Palestinians who, regrettably, foolishly, rejected them.

Let us never forget, too, that the first suicide bombing in Israel happened on 6 April 1994—nothing to do with either Mr. Netanyahu or Mr. Sharon, neither of whom I hold any brief for. That attack, in which eight people were killed on a bus in Afula, was Hamas's attempt to wreck the peace process then under way. That group, plus others, went on to kill hundreds more people, hoping to continue to wreck the possibility of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The name of Mr. Atta is familiar to us. He is known to us as the pilot who flew the plane into the World Trade Centre, murdering thousands of people. The name is

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known in Israel, too, because in the 1980s this same Mr. Atta killed people by throwing a bomb at civilians on a bus. He was arrested, but Israel was then persuaded to release him as a gesture of good will as part of peace negotiations. The persuasion came from President Reagan. We all know what Mr. Atta went on to do.

I raise these points not because I believe that the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is the cause of what we witnessed as thousands of people were murdered in New York and Washington, but because many Members have suggested that it is at the heart of the conflict. It is not. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved—I have explained how that might happen—and I hope that pressure can be brought to bear on both sides to bring everyone back to the negotiating table to seek peace along the lines that I have outlined.

The threat that all of us—whatever our religion, ethnic identity or country—face is the threat from international terrorists who know no boundaries and no mercy. I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) and I realise the strength of the opposition to those who seek peace. I realise the depth of their hatred against most of the world, and I believe that we should redouble our efforts to fight international terrorism while recognising that that will bring difficulties and that, inevitably, innocent civilians may be killed. Our target, however, is the terrorists and the breaking of international military, financial and intelligence and information networks.

The fight will be long and hard, but it is a fight for humanity. If we do not win it, we will find that the terrorists who planned and executed their deadly deeds in September of this year will simply work out new plans and gather and improve their access to biological, chemical and nuclear weapons as they devise their new crimes against the whole of humanity.

5.17 pm

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this important and timely debate.

Just five weeks before the terrible events of 11 September, I chaired a meeting on the 107th floor of the World Trade Centre in New York. I saw the images on television of the towers crumbling with such an horrific loss of life. As one can imagine, it was a very humbling and reflective experience for me.

As President Bush, in his address to a joint session of Congress on 20 September, said:

It was an act of war against every free nation and, equally, an act of war against all those in the Islamic world who believe in peace. To that end, it was absolutely correct for NATO to invoke article 5, recognising that an attack on the United States is also an attack on the rest of us.

It is the duty of every citizen in this country to stand by the campaign against terrorism that is designed to bring those capable of committing such terrible crimes to some form of justice. Those attacks could have been directed at any western freedom-loving nation, including the United Kingdom. That is why we must remain resolute.

I would, however, like to focus my comments on the humanitarian aspects of the war against terrorism. It is through many of the humanitarian issues arising from the

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war—particularly those that relate to the behaviour and the attitude of the Taliban towards their people—that the arguments for military action are most apparent.

The level of humanitarian need in Afghanistan is highlighted by the United Nations website. Under the somewhat dispassionate title "Crisis at a glance", it points out that 7.5 million Afghans may need aid to survive. Nearly 20 per cent. of those in need are children under the age of five and, since 11 September, tens of thousands of Afghans have fled to Pakistan in search of safety and assistance. Some 100,000 families inside Afghanistan may be cut off from aid when snow blocks the roads later this winter. That is certainly a serious and disturbing scenario.

The number of people who need aid in Afghanistan amounts to nearly a third of its population of slightly more than 25 million. That is a chilling statistic. Our response will mean the difference between a nation that can survive post-Taliban and a nation that is so destitute and starving that the path to recovery could be insurmountable.

That said, we must not let such shocking figures result in knee-jerk reactions that can only lead to a loss of focus on the task at hand. Governments and charitable organisations that are already undertaking invaluable work in attempting to alleviate the humanitarian crisis must be supported wholeheartedly and encouraged in their efforts.

Those who call for a pause in the bombing risk putting in place a strategy that would do much more harm than good. Of course we must show compassion. We must take responsibility for helping ordinary, decent and peaceful people in their time of need. When 60,000 families are entirely dependent on the World Food Programme for their food, there is a blatant need for our intervention. However, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition commented in The Daily Telegraph only yesterday, the Taliban disruption of aid efforts dates back to before the military action commenced. Fundamentally, most aid efforts are seriously curtailed. The regime that we are fighting actively prevents and blocks aid reaching those who most need it.

The most urgent and the most humanitarian action that we can take is to continue the military action until the Taliban are disabled and removed from power in Afghanistan for good. Until that regime is removed, there will be a need—it may not be extinguished for years to come—for risky aid missions to Afghanistan. Those will fail continually as the Taliban steal the produce for their soldiers and redirect medical supplies away from the sick and needy.

That does not mean that we should forget the estimated 6 million people who are still in Afghanistan and who desperately need aid to survive. These are people who do not have the resources or the ability to escape across the Afghan borders. Hundreds of thousands of them will be cut off from food and aid by snow and winter conditions in the weeks to come. Winter in Afghanistan is extremely harsh. There must be an emphasis where possible on bolstering supplies for those areas that may well find themselves isolated and impoverished through bad weather.

The World Food Programme is finding ways of bypassing Taliban blocks. However, with a lack of trucks, fuel and local knowledge, there is understandably an incredibly difficult task ahead. Taliban obstruction tactics

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may not let the World Food Programme's target of 52,000 tonnes of aid through into Afghanistan. While the Taliban remain in government, all the support necessary must be put into ensuring that aid can be delivered when the opportunity to do so unhindered presents itself.

It is those Afghans who have not managed to escape, especially those in the northern hunger belts where food levels are critically low, who must receive our most urgent attention. However, food supplies must not be our only concern. The Taliban regime can only be described as backward. The Taliban run a country contrary to the principles and beliefs that the vast majority of civilised countries hold sacred. For example, there is the situation of women.

Continued and focused military action to remove the Taliban and to reconstruct Afghanistan as a respected nation will bring greater recognition of the rights that we take for granted. Of course, our primary focus must be to defeat the terrorists. We must block the ability of those who seek to commit further atrocities to carry them out.

Those who harbour terrorists are also harbouring intolerance. They starve their people not only of food, but of basic equality. If the Taliban continue to rule in Afghanistan, not only will we have no guarantee that they will cease to give protection and a home to terrorists, but the humanitarian crisis will only worsen as thousands try to leave the country for a better life elsewhere, only to be persecuted for wanting what we take for granted.

This war is about standing up for democracy and for people who live in freedom and safety. The Taliban's support for and protection of terrorists is undoubtedly interwoven with their appalling domestic record. It is logical that a regime that does not care for its citizens will never care for the citizens of other nations. We must continue to prove that we have compassion for the Afghan people. That can occur only through achieving their liberation. Material aid is essential, but the removal of the Taliban will aid the people of Afghanistan far more in the long term. It can be achieved only through staying on course and continuing to stand together with the United States of America and the rest of the coalition determined and resolute in our aims. Those aims include delivering a future for the innocent people of Afghanistan. That is how we can best aid them and it is our true humanitarian mission.

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