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Tuesday, 7 June 1994
Page: 1375

Senator JONES —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and refers to the Israeli military action in Lebanon. Is the government concerned that the Israeli raid last Thursday against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon's Beka'a Valley violates Lebanon's sovereignty, and what implications does this have for the Middle East peace process?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I should say at the outset that the government is, of course, concerned by any renewed outbreak of violence in the Middle East. We have said so on just about every other occasion in the past when such a major new escalation has occurred. So while the Australian government understands Israel's concerns, and always has, about security along its northern border, we consider that the attack last week by the Israeli air force on the Hezbollah training camp seriously compromises Lebanese sovereignty and that it was unhelpful, particularly at a time when the Lebanese government is clearly making renewed efforts to assert its authority domestically.

  As again I have said on many previous occasions, Australia supports the early implementation of Security Council resolution 425, which calls for Israel's immediate withdrawal from all Lebanese territory. We have repeatedly condemned attacks on Israel that have been launched from within Lebanon, and will continue to do so, but as a government we cannot endorse the continued presence of Israeli forces in the self-styled security zone in southern Lebanon.

  I should add that while not in any way seeking to equate the status under which Syrian forces are present in Lebanon with that of Israeli forces in southern Lebanon, nonetheless the Australian government considers, as I have said on many occasions, that the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanese territory would enhance Lebanese sovereignty.

  We are also concerned that any escalation of violence of this kind by one party in the region does risk retaliation by others with obvious negative implications for the peace process negotiations as a whole. Already we have seen retaliatory rocket-launched attacks on civilian settlements in northern Israel, and it cannot be assumed that the cycle has yet run its course. On the other hand, there have been press reports that both Syria and Iran have been urging Hezbollah to exercise restraint in the wake of these attacks. If these reports, which we would of course welcome, are accurate and if Israel does avoid further military action in Lebanon, the potential damage to the peace process might be thus contained. We certainly very much hope that Syria and Lebanon would be prepared to isolate that recent violence in Lebanon from the peace process.

  The peace process is now at a crucial juncture. The signs that genuine progress has been made have probably never been clearer. The international community is particularly gratified that the Palestinians have now taken control over Gaza and Jericho and that the new civil administration is beginning to function. In the other main bilateral track, Israel and Syria appear to have at last reached the stage of serious negotiations over a series of comprehensive proposals. Moreover, King Hussein's statement that Jordan will proceed in its negotiations with Israel independently of the progress made by other participants is also an encouraging development.

  For its part, Australia will continue to do what we can to support the peace process both through the multilateral working groups of which we are a member and otherwise. Last October we announced a $15 million assistance package designed to engender support for the peace process. And I can say, finally, that the government is now in the process of examining whether we can make a financial contribution to the start-up costs of the new Palestinian authority.