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Tuesday, 19 March 1957

Mr CASEY (Minister for External Affairs) - The right honorable gentleman's question embraces a wide field. If I may attempt, in the most economic form of words that I can find, to answer it, I might mention, first, that the situation in Gaza has been ventilated very fully in the newspapers. The Israeli Government evacuated both Gaza and its establishments at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, on, I think, the 6th or 7 th of this month. I understand that the technicalities or legalities of the situation regarding Gaza are that Egypt has the technical or legal right to administer the Gaza strip, a right which flows from the armistice agreement of 1949; but since 1949, as we all know very well, a great many other things have happened which, I would think, expressing my own non-legal view, have diluted the legalities of the situation. I think it may be said that Israel evacuated its establishments, politically and militarily, a fortnight ago in the belief, which it had some very good reason to hold, that Israeli troops would be succeeded by United Nations' troops. Now we have had, quite recently, a situation in which Egypt is apparently installing an administrative governor, an act which appears to flout a United Nations' decision. I only hope that the Egyptian assumption of administrative responsibility in the Gaza strip is no more than a technicality to preserve Egypt's presumed rights under the armistice agreement of 1949, because if it is otherwise, I can see, as I am sure the right honorable gentleman can see, a situation arising that would imperil the whole situation in the Middle East. I believe that in complying with the instructions of the General Assembly of the United Nations to evacuate Egypt and Sinai, the Israelis have done so as an act of faith, but not as an act of unfounded faith. There has been a good deal to lead them to assume that they would be protected in future from a resumption of the incursions into their .territory that happened before last October. Anything that ran counter to that, I believe, would gravely imperil, as the right honorable gentleman assumes, the peace of the Middle East once again. So far as the Gulf of Aqaba is concerned, a majority, or at least a great many members of the United Nations, including the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Australia, believe that the Gulf of Aqaba and the straits of Tiran are international waters and that Egypt's denial of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Tiran Straits to Israeli shipping since 1951 was an illegal act. I believe that any future attempts to re-impose the Egyptian blockade on shipping in the Gulf of Aqaba might lead to very serious consequences. So far as one can deal with the Suez Canal in a very few words, the ball has now been in Egypt's court for at least a month, because, in October of last year, the United Nations Security Council passed the well-known six resolutions, one of which supported complete freedom of passage through the canal for all nations, including Israel, of course. Mr. Hammarskjoeld followed that up with Egypt, but obtained no response. I share with the Leader of the Opposition the belief that these things should be brought to finality.

Or. Evatt. - In the United Nations.

Mr CASEY - In the United Nations or elsewhere, but brought to finality at the earliest possible date, by whatever means are practicable. Any influence that Australia has in this connexion has already been exercised, and will continue to be exercised.

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