Ivan Lewis on Israel visit calls for Gilad Shalit release

Ivan Lewis in Israel

Ivan Lewis in Israel

Ivan Lewis, the Middle East minister, has asked the Palestinian leadership for help in securing the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Making his first visit to Israel and the territories since taking up his Foreign Office post in June, Mr Lewis spent four days in the region. The trip followed a visit to Syria and Lebanon earlier this month.

Mr Lewis, MP for Bury South, a former vice-chairman of Labour Friends of Israel and chief executive of the Manchester Jewish Federation, said his aim was to help realise the goal of a two-state solution.

On Tuesday he met representatives of former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, now Middle East envoy to the Quartet — US, Russia, the EU and the UN.

We really are at a critical juncture, and I believe that it is imperative to come out and see what the situation on the ground is like first-hand.

Ivan Lewis MP

A spokeswoman for Mr Lewis said: “They discussed settlement issues and the difficulties Palestinians have going about their lives.”

He also met the Palestinian National Authority minister of foreign affairs, Dr Riyad Al Malki.

They discussed the plight of Gilad Shalit, captured by Palestinian militants in 2006.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “The minister raised it and asked if there was anything the Palestinians could do to help get him out. But they pointed out they had little locus over Hamas.”

Mr Lewis was given a tour of the West Bank including Jayas, Qalqilya and Azuun Atma, to see how the barrier affects Palestinians there.

On Wednesday he was given a tour of Jerusalem and met Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, and the minister for strategic affairs, Moshe Ya’alon.

Yesterday (Thursday) he was due to visit the southern Israeli town of Sderot to meet the mayor, David Buskila, and visit a recently-dedicated park funded by JNF-UK.

Sderot has been the target of Hamas-backed rocket fire for the past eight years — around 8,000 rockets have fallen on the town.

Mr Lewis said: “We really are at a critical juncture, and I believe that it is imperative to come out and see what the situation on the ground is like first-hand.

“We face some immense challenges in our efforts to secure a just and lasting peace for the Middle East, but Britain, as a firm friend to both Israel and the Palestinians, continues to do all it can to help realise the goal of a two-state solution.”

Last updated: 9:18am, August 21 2009