Commons Debates Britain’s Middle East Policy; Fifty Questions Posed

The House of Commons held a lengthy debate on Britain’s Middle East policy today, with Harold Macmillan, Foreign Secretary, replying to the 50-odd written questions prepared for him.

On the question of Britain’s continued supplying of arms to Egypt, even while the Arab country brought weapons from Czechoslovakia and appeared to be considering still closer ties with the Communist bloc, Mr. Macmillan refused a direct answer. At one point, R.H. Turton, Parliamentary Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, said that no British Centurion Tanks–50-ton monster tanks mounting a 20-pound cannon–had been delivered to Egypt since mid-August. He refused, however, to give any other information about deliveries to Egypt. Secretary Macmillan dodged the arms question despite repeated cries from the MP’s of: “Answer.”

The Foreign Secretary, beset by searching questions from both sides of the House, asked the MP’s not to press for the answer to “supplementary questions” on a problem of “great difficulty and complexity” upon which very large issues depend and which are “not made easier by the inclusion into this sphere by the policy of the Soviet Government.

BRITAIN OPPOSES EGYPT’S BLOCKADE OF SUEZ AND EILATH

He revealed that United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, in his proposals to Israel and Egypt last week, had suggested the evacuation of the Nitzana-El Auja demilitarized zone by both parties and completion of the demarcation of the Israel-Egyptian border line in that area. He said that there were 12 UN observers along the Israel-Egyptian line in the Gaza and Nitzana areas and that last Friday Minister of State Anthony Nutting had informed Maj. Gen. E.L.M. Burns, UN truce chief, that Britain would support any request Gen. Burns might make for more observers. The Foreign Secretary praised the work done by Gen. Burns in reducing to “manageable proportions” the Israel-Egyptian situation.

In reference to Egypt’s blockade of the Suez Canal, he noted that Britain refused to accept the legality of the blockade against Israel. “But,” he continued, “it is not easily dealt with under existing conditions.” He expressed the hope that a general settlement would see the end of this problem as well as many others.

Questioned about the blockade of the Gulf of Akaba, where Egypt is attempting to bottle up the Israel port of Eilath, the Secretary again noted that Britain had refused to recognize the legality of the Egyptian regulations and had protested them. Discussions between Britain and Egypt on this matter are continuing, he noted, and the Egyptian Government had indicated that some modification of the regulations might be expected. “I hope an acceptable arrangement can soon be arrived at,” he added.

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