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Israeli siege of Gaza ‘collective punishment,’ say UK MPs


London : An influential group of British MPs Sunday criticised Israel’s siege of Gaza as “collective punishment” against the Palestinians and called on the UK government to strongly urge the Zionist regime to desist from violating international law.

The Foreign Affairs Committee also highlighted a number of human rights issues related to counter-terrorism and concluded that, “given the recent US practice of water-boarding, the British Government can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture.” “We also conclude that it is extremely important that the veracity of allegations that the British Government has ‘outsourced’ interrogation techniques involving the torture of British nationals by Pakistani authorities should be investigated,” the committee said.

The all-party group of MPs was responding to the Foreign Office’s latest annual human rights report for 2007, which lists some 15 major countries of concern, with the section on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories being the most substantial.

During its hearings, it said Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown described Israel’s actions in the occupied territories to be “deeply damaging” and that the UK government had declared a number to be “excessive, disproportionate and against international law.”

“We agree with the minister that some of Israel’s actions against the Palestinians have been disproportionate and we conclude that Israeli policies towards the population of the Gaza Strip as a whole have been a form of collective punishment,” the committee said.

“We recommend that the government should urge Israel in the strongest possible terms to desist from activities that violate international law,” it concluded.

The MPs said that they were told by London director of Human Rights Watch, Tom Porteous, that the British government should “call it what it is: collective punishment.”

Porteous also revealed that in a private conversation, an FCO official agreed with this assessment but said that “for political reasons it was impossible” for the government to adopt publicly this position.

When questioning Malloch-Brown, the committee said it pressed him on if Israel could be subject to legal action, but he replied “we have no intention of sponsoring any effort to take Israel to any international court” as it would damage efforts to build trust.

In a later letter, the minister was quoted saying that “in the case of individual criminal liability by any individuals for grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions then national courts may have jurisdiction.”

Elsewhere in its 200-page report, the committee believed it is the right decision for Prime Minister Gordon Brown to attend next month’s Olympic Games in Beijing.

“But we recommend that the government should strongly condemn any repressive measures taken by the Chinese Government against dissidents,” it added.