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Monday, 4 June 2001
Page: 27128

Mr PYNE (2:07 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the Minister for Foreign Affairs advise the House of the implications for the Middle East peace process of the horrendous suicide bombing in Tel Aviv last Friday?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the member for Sturt for his question and, indeed, for the fact that he does take these problems, which are very severe and tragic problems in the Middle East, seriously. All Australians, I am sure, were shocked and horrified at the bombing on Friday in Tel Aviv that killed 20 people and injured more than 100. In direct answer to the honourable member's question, that did represent a very serious escalation of the cycle of violence that we have already been seeing for quite some time now in the Middle East. If left unchecked, there is a real danger that this violence could spiral totally out of control, with a devastating effect on hopes for an early peace in the Middle East. With that danger firmly in mind, the Australian government condemns the terrorist attack, in the strongest of terms. Moreover, we urge both sides to step back from the brink in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy and to accept that, for the sake of both peoples, there must be an immediate cease-fire and a return to the negotiating table.

I note that following a statement of condemnation of the attack issued by the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr Yasser Arafat, on 2 June—and we welcome his statement—the Israeli government has held off retaliation and that, over the last two days, the level of violence in the Palestinian territories has at least diminished somewhat; and that is a welcome development.

At a meeting in Pretoria on 2 May, I emphasised to Mr Arafat the futility of the cycle of violence that has gone on since September last year. This latest example underlines the point and demonstrates how critically important it is for a genuine cease-fire to be solidified. Only then can the negotiators again sit down and work out peaceful solutions to the problems between both sides. It is the Australian government's view that they should use the recommendations of the Mitchell committee report as a very sound basis for their work. As I said at the beginning of my answer to the honourable member's question, this is a shocking development in the Middle East, and we can only hope and, indeed, pray that out of this tragedy comes some good and that a cease-fire and negotiations will commence.