Lib Dem MP Ward's 'categorical apology' over Gaza tweet

David Ward spoke to the BBC ahead of his "categorical apology"

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The Lib Dems say David Ward has given a "categorical apology" for his comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr Ward tweeted on Tuesday: "The big question is - if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? - probably yes."

In a statement subsequently released by the Lib Dems, he said: "My comments were not in support of firing rockets into Israel. If they gave the opposite impression, I apologise."

A Lib Dem spokesman had said the party "utterly condemned" the MP's tweet.

The spokesman later added: "In light of this apology, the party and the whips will decide in due course if further disciplinary action should be taken."

Mr Ward, the MP for Bradford East, was suspended from the Lib Dem parliamentary party in July 2013 and had the whip withdrawn for three months over comments he made about Israel.

He was asked on Wednesday morning by BBC Radio 5live if he stood by his tweet on Tuesday or would apologise for it.

David Ward MP: "Politicians in the West are failing Gaza"

Declining to apologise, he said he condemned violence on both sides of the conflict, but had been seeking to understand the motives of those firing rockets at Israel.

"The question is why would they want to fire missiles when they know that the missiles will result in further Palestinian deaths, to a disproportionate level? Why are they doing it?" he said.

"They are doing it because they are absolutely desperate and politicians in the West are failing them."

'Appalling'

He continued: "The people in Gaza cannot escape... I understand the plight of the people firing the rockets."

Referring to his original tweet, the Lib Dem MP later added, in another BBC interview: "What I was saying was, if I was there, if I had been living for year after year after year, hemmed in by air, land and sea by a mighty military force that was brutally killing my people, and the world was not responding, I think I would have to do something."

Asked if he might decide to leave the Lib Dems in protest over the official party line on Gaza, he said: "I am not going to walk away from the Liberal Democrats. They may decide to walk away from me, but I certainly am not going to walk away from them."

His later statement released by the party, containing his apology, also said he supported "the right of Israel to exist and defend itself".

Mr Ward's comments came as the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Israel and the Palestinians to "stop fighting" and "start talking" to end the conflict in Gaza.

More than 600 Palestinians and 30 Israelis have been killed in the past 14 days of fighting, officials say.

The MP for Bradford East commented on the crisis in a series of tweets on Wednesday. In a follow-up message, he wrote: "Ich bin ein #palestinian - the West must make up its mind - which side is it on?"

A Labour spokesman said: "At a time when all sides should be working for a ceasefire and a peaceful settlement, it defies belief that a Liberal Democrat MP should tweet something so vile and irresponsible."

'Exercise restraint'

Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps urged Mr Ward to withdraw the "appalling" comments.

He said: "No MP should tweet what's essentially incitement to violence. Completely irresponsible."

A Lib Dem spokesman said: "Nick Clegg has been at the forefront of calling for peace in Israel and Gaza.

"We utterly condemn David Ward's comments, they are not representative of the Liberal Democrats."

Prime Minister David Cameron has urged Israel to "exercise restraint" in its military operations and to avoid targeting civilians.

But he has also defended its right to self-defence and said the "fastest way" to bring about a ceasefire would be for Hamas militants in Gaza to stop firing rockets into Israel.

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