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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 594


Senator HILL —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Given the recent comments made by the Prime Minister in the Middle East on the Australian Government's commitment to helping the peace process, is the Government going to condemn the Syrian Army's entry into West Beirut? What immediate relief is the Government going to give to the Palestinian refugees who are in camps that are the meat in the sandwich between the Syrian forces and the Amal Shi'ite militia?


Senator GARETH EVANS —The entry of additional Syrian troops into West Beirut at the invitation of Prime Minister Karami and several Moslem political leaders who are members of the Lebanese Government is a new and important factor in the various efforts to bring about stability to the country. Prime Minister Karami is reported to have said that the invitation is within the context of the 1976 request by Lebanon for the deployment of an Arab deterrent force in Lebanon with Syria remaining the only member of that still in Lebanon. President Gemayel is reported to have described the invitation to Syria as unconstitutional. How the Lebanese Government resolves this internally is essentially a matter for it to decide.

The Australian Government has stated often enough before that all foreign forces in Lebanon should withdraw except those who are there at the request of the Government of Lebanon and whose presence is necessary to allow the development of conditions which can allow social, economic, and political stability to be re-established within Lebanon and the authority of the Lebanese Government to be asserted. We are obviously still very concerned, as everyone is, about the violence which has continued on various levels in Lebanon. We do not see any solution as being likely to be found unless and until all groups recognise the rights of all Lebanese to coexist side by side. We are not a party principal to efforts to promote a solution to the problems of Lebanon; we have simply urged in the past, and will go on urging, all parties involved to exercise maximum restraint and to enter into negotiations aimed at national reconciliation and a peaceful settlement.

As to the question of the position of the Palestinian refugees and humanitarian assistance, I have made already a couple of statements on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs in response to questions here. I have no more up to date information than that. All I can say is that as further appeals are received, as I expect they probably will be in due course, from the United Nations and other international agencies operating in the region such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East and the International Committee of the Red Cross, we will continue to give sympathetic consideration to such requests if and when they are received.