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Parliament discusses Gaza flotilla fall-out

    British and European parliamentarians took part in a trio of debates this week to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wider Middle East issues.

    On Monday evening, the House of Commons discussed the government's policy on the region. Most of the debate centred on the fall-out from the Gaza flotilla incident.

    There were calls for the government to ban arms sales to Israel and impose boycott, divestment and sanctions policies. James Arbuthnot, chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, admitted that Israel "makes mistakes" and criticised settlement building.

    But, discussing the flotilla, he added: "We should not blame Israel for the violence against which it failed to guard itself; the blame lies with those who went onto the flotilla expressly seeking martyrdom."

    Mr Arbuthnot said one thing baffled him: "What I do not understand is why Israel is so good at fighting wars, but is absolutely atrocious at managing its public relations."

    A Private Members' debate brought by Labour's Karen Buck, concentrating directly on Gaza, took place in Westminster Hall on Tuesday.

    Among the most vociferous critics of Israel was Lib Dem David Ward. He said there had been "international acceptance [of Israel] as an apartheid state" and called for an extended boycott, as similar policies had been "the only thing that counted in South Africa".

    The EU's Foreign Affairs Council called for the unconditional and immediate release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit; an "immediate, full and impartial inquiry"; and "a fundamental change of policy leading to a durable solution to the situation in Gaza".

    Meanwhile, the five candidates in the Labour leadership race set out their views on Israel and Palestine to a packed audience at Stratford Town Hall.

    Both David and Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and former Health Secretary Andy Burnham described themselves as "critical friends" of Israel.

    But Hackney MP Diane Abbott, who has often criticised Israel, called the Gaza blockade "collective punishment for voting for Hamas".

    She added: "This Israeli government has to be made to understand that there is only one solution - and that is a two-state solution."

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