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August 28, 2006

Blair told to end Israeli blockade of Lebanon

A British Muslim delegation has returned from Lebanon finding the people united against Israeli aggression and demanding an immediate lifting of the continuing air, sea and land blockade.

"The fact-finding mission were told unanimously by Lebanese leaders to urge Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to influence Israel to lift the air, sea and land embargoes," The Muslim News, Editor Ahmed J Versi, who was part of the Delegation, said.

"They also want the international community to put pressure on Israel to respect Resolution 1701 and end its violations, like in kidnapping Lebanese civilians and carrying out commando raids in the Bekaa Valley," Versi said. The emphasis was that peace in the Middle East would only be achieve by resolving the Palestinian crisis.
During their visit, the delegation held meetings with President Emile Lahoud, Foreign Minister, Fawzi Salloukh, Sunni and Shi'ah community leaders, and Hizbullah Head of External Relations, Ali Damush, as well British Ambassador to Lebanon, James Watt.

The President was strongly supportive of the resistance by Hizbullah, saying "they have defended us, our country from the aggression of Israel." He recalled Israel's invasion in 1982 and said: "We learnt the lesson and without the stiff resistance of the
Hizbullah, Israelis would have once again taken over the Presidential Palace."

It was because of the Resistance that the Israelis "achieved nothing," Lahoud said. With the winter approaching, the "embargo must be lifted," he said, warning who was the country going to provide shelters for the displaced people. In this, he urged Blair to play a leading role.

The Foreign Minister also urged the delegation to tell Blair to ask Israel to "immediately completely lift the Israeli air, sea and land blockade as this goes
against the text and spirit of the 1701 Resolution."

He also said Israel should be told to stop its violation of 1701, including its commando raid in Bekaa, "aiming at kidnapping a religious personality in Lebanon" and its "continued kidnapping of innocent civilians". "Such aggression will not contribute to a stable solution and to a smooth implementation of Resolution 1701," Salloukh warned. He also emphasised the need to "resolve the Shebaa' Farms issue" as "we consider it as a integral part of Resolution 1701."

What was needed was a "complete withdrawal of Israeli troops behind the blue line," he said.

The delegation, which also included Phyllis Starkey Labour MP, was co-organised by the Khoei Foundation with the Muslim Association of Britain and British Muslim Forum. It visited Lebanon last week to learn first-hand about the extent of the destruction wreaked by Israel and identify humanitarian priorities. The Muslim News Editor said he saw the devastation of thousands of dwellings and businesses, roads, bridges. "It was as if earthquake, tornado - all had hit the south Beirut and the villages," he said. "But amongst the rubble, we found was the resoluteness of all sections of the Lebanese people. They continued with their lives, including those who still had their shops intact - selling their wares. In Khiyam, near the Israeli border, where almost every house and building was damaged, hundreds demolished, people walked with dignity. They were dressed immaculately and smiled at us and welcomed us to their damaged homes for cups of tea," he said.

Shi’ah Leader, Shaykh Abd Al Amir Qabalan, said that the whole of Lebanon is united - Shi'ah, Sunni, and Christians against the Israeli aggression and people were still angry at Bush and Blair for supporting Israel. "Bush and Blair supported Israel to
continue with its aggression and kept a closed eye to the attacks and atrocities," Qabalan said. Israel, he said, "continues with its aggression, there is a sea, land and air embargo. No one is caring to lift the embargo." The meeting with Shaykh Qabalan was at the Higher Islamic Shiite Council, which partly damaged because of Israeli bombardment.

Sunni Leader, Muhammad Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, also repeated that all the country's communities were united. "Despite all attempts to
divide us, all Lebanon, Shi'ah Sunni, Christian, are united. We support the Resistance, Hizbullah, which stood fast against Israel and made victory against Israeli aggression," Qabbani said. He told the delegation that they "should encourage the British people and Government to stop the aggression by Israel. Israel intimidates us, threatens us that they will attack again. Israel must be stopped."

The important thing, the Grand Mufti said, was to resolve the Palestinian issue as this will help solve other problems in the Middle East. Britain should work with the EU and the Arab countries to resolve this issue."

Damush said the Lebanese people "were grateful to the people of Britain to have supported the Lebanese people against the Israeli aggression." Be he said they disagreed with the "pro-Israeli stand taken by the British and American governments." The Hizbullah Head of External Affairs said the capture of the two Israeli soldiers was justified because "all diplomatic negotiations for the release of the Lebanese prisoners held by Israel for 13 years had failed. Israel, we have found from experience only understand the language of 'exchange of prisoners'." He also urged the delegation to ask the British Government to use its influence with the Israeli Government to leave all the occupied territories in Lebanon, including the Shabaa' farms. "With this all the problems will disappear," Damush said.

The Delegation comprised of: Dr Phyllis Starkey, MP, Kassamali Habib Manji, President, Khoja Shia Ithnashary Muslim Community of London, Sayyed Nadeem Kazmi, Al-Khoei Foundation, coordinator, Dr Hussain Gharbieh, UK Lebanese community, coordinator, Khurshid Ahmed, British Muslim Forum, Dr Esam Abdullah, Interpal, Jorge Roberto Ramirez, Cameraman, Dr Ismail Farhat, Muslim Association of Britain, Ahmed J Versi, Editor, The Muslim News.

The Delegation went on 23 August and returned on 26 August and visited Beirut, Sidon, Nabatiyyah, Khiyam and other small towns and villages.

For further information contact us on 020 8863 8586 or 077 68 241 325. Please acknowledge The Muslim News when using the press release

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