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Parliamentary support for sending EU troops to Lebanon

MEPs voiced their support for the EU reinforcement of UN forces in Lebanon at a special meeting on Tuesday of the Foreign Affairs Committee. They called for a clear definition of the mandate and the mission of the peacekeepers, and for the disarmament of Hezbollah, the strengthening of democracy in Lebanon and a stronger political role for the EU in the region. The meeting began with statements from Teemu Tanner, for the Finnish EU presidency, Marc Otte, the EU's special representative for the Middle East peace process, and Commission representative Christian Leffler. They advocated an overall, structural solution to the problems in the region, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the involvement of Syria and Iran, which should not be seen in isolation. Leffler said Parliament had been asked to approve the release of € 50 million from the emergency reserve for southern Lebanon, mainly for providing water and the clearing of unexploded ordnance and mines; € 20 million had already been used. He also noted that the EU had spent € 300 million in aid for the Palestinian people, more than in previous years, even though the EU is using a special financing mechanism in order to bypass the Hamas-controlled Palestinian government.
According to Foreign Affairs Committee chair Elmar Brok (EPP-ED, DE), one of the key steps to ensure a lasting peace is the disarmament of Hezbollah and surveillance of the border between Lebanon and Syria to prevent the group being able to receive further arms. “Either Hezbollah disarms and becomes a political party, or we will have to put it onto our list of terrorist organisations, as the United States have already done,” said Camiel Eurlings (EPP-ED, NL).
Re-establishing democracy in Lebanon was the other essential condition to solve the crisis, according to MEPs. The war had “crushed the hope created by the last elections in Lebanon, following the death of Rafik Hariri,” said José Salafranca (EPP-ED, ES) who had led the EU’s observation mission at the time. Carlos Carnero called for the lifting of the air and sea blockade as soon as possible “to save one of the only democracies in the region.” Despite the scale of the destruction of infrastructure – which led Véronique de Keyser (PES, BE) to speak of a “destroyer pays” principle like the “polluter pays” principle of environmental protection – many MEPs believed the EU should get involved politically as well as providing humanitarian support. “We are not the Red Cross, we must play a positive political role,” said Luisa Morgantini (GUE/NGL, IT), chair of the Development Committee.
MEPs supported the widening of mandate of the UN force, UNIFIL so that its mission to separate the two sides would be “strong and respected,” as Philippe Morillon (ALDE, FR) put it. There was criticism for the Council for not having managed to adopt a common position on the Middle East, instead leaving Member States to deal with the issue individually. The chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights, Hélène Flautre (Greens/EFA, FR), with the support of Vittorio Agnoletto (GUE/NGL, IT), called for the EU to back an international inquiry on war crimes which might have been committed by the two sides. Hannes Swoboda (PES, AT), among others said it was “unacceptable” that elected members of the Palestinian government and parliament had been imprisoned, just as the taking hostage of Israeli soldiers was unacceptable. (EP Press)