Nick Herbert calls for immediate return of hostages held by Palestinian militants

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called for an immediate return of hostages held by Palestinian militant groups.


The MP was speaking after a visit to Israel where he met with the parents of the three young Israeli soldiers abducted by Hezbollah and Hamas nearly a year ago.  The parents still do not know if their sons are alive or have been murdered.

In March BBC journalist Alan Johnston was abducted in Gaza by a group calling itself Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam).

Nick Herbert visited Israel to see for himself the problems facing the country, and its neighbours, as the search for a solution to more than half a century of conflict in the region continues.

The visit, which was organised and funded by Conservative Friends of Israel, coincided with the fortieth anniversary of the Six Day War, which began in June 1967.

Rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza continued throughout the MPs' trip, and it was not possible to visit the area, but the group went up to the West Bank and saw the controversial new security fence.  The barrier has reduced suicide bomber attacks but also serves as a bleak reminder of the failure of successive peace processes.

The MPs held discussions with members of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, including former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  However, the trip was not one-sided, also involving meetings with independent academic experts, the British Ambassador to Tel Aviv, the Consul General in East Jerusalem, and the Chief Palestinian negotiator, Dr Saeb Erekat.

In his role as Shadow Minister for Police Reform, Nick Herbert also met Israel's Deputy Chief of Police, Major General Shachar Ayalon, and discussed issues such as community policing and the role of volunteers, who are deployed extensively in Israel's police force.

Following the meeting with the parents of the abducted Israeli soldiers, the MPs agreed to raise the matter, particularly with Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to press the captors in Lebanon and Gaza to provide information on the soldiers' well-being and to release them.

Nick Herbert commented: "I will not easily forget the anguish of the fathers and mothers of the abducted Israeli soldiers who still do not know if their sons are alive or have been murdered."

The MP added: "I felt it was important to learn at first hand the issues confronting this region, which I believe represent one of the key challenges facing the international community today.

"The irony is that in many ways both sides see better than ever the route to peace, which they accept is a two state solution, but in their way stand extremists who do want not peace and are fighting a war of ideology rather than for territory.

"Many constituents write and come to see me about this conflict, with strong views expressed on either side.  No-one is blameless, but I prefer to look forward to peaceful co-existence, beginning with the renewal of dialogue.  That requires an end to terrorist attacks, and the immediate return of hostages."



Notes for Editors

1. The photograph shows Nick Herbert with the Israeli Deputy Chief of Police, Major General Shachar Ayalon.

2. The visit to Israel from 26 to 31 May 2007 was organised by Conservative Friends of Israel who funded the trip with support from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

3. 151 MPs, including Nick Herbert, have signed Early Day Motion no. 24 in the House of Commons which states:

"That this House notes that United Nations Resolution 1701 in respect of the recent Israel/Lebanon conflict calls for the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev; further notes that these soldiers were abducted on 12th July 2006 and their fate remains unknown; further notes that the leader of Hizbollah, Sheikh Nasrallah, has admitted on Lebanese television in August 2006 that it was the intention of Hizbollah to take hostages; condemns the hostage taking and the failure of Hizbollah to comply with its obligations under United Nations Resolution 1701 to release the hostages; further notes that Gilad Shalit continues to be held by Hamas; and calls for Hizbollah and Hamas to release their hostages with immediate effect."

Alexander Black