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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 4279


Mr BERINSON (PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The Prime Minister will be aware of reports of the murder by Syrian forces of Israeli soldiers captured in the recent Middle East war. Is there any reason to doubt the accuracy of these reports? If not, can the Prime Minister inform the House of what action, if any, has been taken on the matter by any country or international agency? Is it a fact that, even apart from the alleged murders, Syria is in breach of at least 3 basic covenants of the Geneva Convention relating to prisoners of war, arising from its refusal of access to prisoners by independent third parties, its refusal to allow prisoners to establish contact with their families and its refusal even to provide the names of prisoners held? As the Geneva Convention provides no sanctions against non-observance other than the possibility of condemnation by the world community, will the Prime Minister consider taking action to have the matter raised at the United Nations on the basis that this is a humanitarian question which can and should be settled independently and irrespective of the continuing dispute in the area?


Mr WHITLAM - It is deplorable that arrangements have not yet been successfully concluded for the exchange of prisoners of war between Israel and Syria as have already been concluded for the exchange of prisoners of war between Israel and Egypt. The Australian Government cannot verify the allegations of torture or murders which are made by each side. The Government certainly has heard the allegations against Syrian forces. Of course, there have been allegations of Israeli forces using Syrian prisoners of war to find the way through minefields. Whatever truth there may be in any such allegations, they are deplorable. Since the facts are not clear, Australia, like other countries, has not felt it desirable to make any public statement on such reports of atrocities. Australia would certainly condemn any breaches of the Geneva Conventions both in respect of the treatment of prisoners of war and in other respects. We would hope that Israel and Syria could complete arrangements to exchange their prisoners of war. Appropriate international organisations have been engaged in efforts to bring this about. Australia naturally supports those efforts.

Australia is not diplomatically represented in Syria but has made informal inquiries of the Syrian authorities and has expressed to them the hope that they would be able to make positive approaches to the question of prisoner of war exchanges. There are technical disputes between Syria and Israel on the application of Geneva conventions, par*ticularly the Third Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war and the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war. The two sides are finessing as to which convention takes priority - which is to be applied first. In the meantime these allegations are made. They can not be substantiated. I hope that the two sides will get together as Egypt and Israel have got together at last, after a quarter of a century. There is little hope for the peace of the world, there is no hope for peace in that region, until all the countries get together. Egypt and Israel have shown the way.







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