Liberal Democrat MP David Ward has issued what the party has described as a "categorical apology", after posting a tweet suggesting that he would "probably" fire rockets from Gaza into Israel.
The Bradford East MP faced a furious backlash and was accused of inciting violence with the comments, but has insisted that his tweets were not intended to support Hamas.
In the apology, which arguably doesn't sound much like an apology, Ward said:
I utterly condemn the violence on both sides in Israel and Gaza.
I condemn the actions of Hamas, and my comments were not in support of firing rockets into Israel. If they gave the opposite impression, I apologise."
However, while I defend the right of Israel to exist and defend itself, I will continue to speak out for the rights of the Palestinian people who are facing untold suffering. More must be done by the world community to end this humanitarian crisis and protect the families living in Gaza. I can understand their plight and desperation.
A ceasefire in this conflict is essential. If we are to end the suffering, and establish a safer society for people in Gaza, the first step must be an end to violence on both sides.
As if almost to clarify, a Lib Dem spokesman added: "This is a categorical apology from David Ward. In light of this apology, the party and the whips will decide in due course if further disciplinary action should be taken."
But people were not convinced, and many immediately took to Twitter to slam the statement:
That David Ward apology..... pic.twitter.com/rEo2xagRHq
— General Boles (@GeneralBoles) July 23, 2014
"This is a categorical apology from David Ward." Lib Dem dictionary must have different meaning of the word 'categorical' to mine.
— Dave Raybould (@DaveRaybould) July 23, 2014
Any other MP I'm sure would have had their party whip suspended at least. David Ward gets off the hook with a half-arsed apology.
— Sam Baxter (@SamJ_Bax) July 23, 2014
Any statement that needs "this is a categorical apology" from a press officer is not a categorical apology http://t.co/ejvN3N8Gf5
— John Rentoul (@JohnRentoul) July 23, 2014
"This is a categorical apology from David Ward" Err, no, it was not. It was a justification and promise to do it again.
— #FairPay4Marr (@BBCPropaganda) July 23, 2014
Ward's statement came after the Board of Deputies of British Jews called on Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg to withdraw the party whip from Ward, saying he had "shamed Parliament, the Liberal Democrats and himself".
Ward was suspended for a period following previous similarly controversial comments.
Now his future is once again in doubt after he used social media to give his verdict on the violence currently rocking the Middle East.
The big question is - if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? - probably yes
— David Ward (@DavidWardMP) July 22, 2014
Ich bin ein #palestinian - the West must make up its mind - which side is it on?
— David Ward (@DavidWardMP) July 22, 2014
Following his statement, the Liberal Democrats said that Mr Ward would meet chief whip Don Foster "in due course" after which a decision would be made on whether disciplinary action should be taken.
The party has said they "utterly condemn" the remarks which "are not representative of the Liberal Democrats".
The backlash against the MP 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 Tories have now reported Ward to the police for “encouragement of terrorism as defined by Section 1 (2) of the Terrorism Act 2006.”
In a letter to Bernard Hogan Howe, MP Nadhim Zahawi wrote:
Freedom of speech is an important right, but it is not an unqualified one. This is especially true for public figures who have the capacity to influence the actions of others. Mr Ward’s tweets would appear to be prima facie evidence that he has committed the offence of encouragement of terrorism... Mr Ward may or may not have intended this statement to encourage others to fire rockets from Gaza into Israel, but regrettably he would appear to at least have been reckless as to whether others would be encouraged to commit such acts.
Ward has had a long-running dispute with the Lib Dem leadership over his use of language with regard to Israel.
He also posted a tweet earlier this year calling Israel an "apartheid state" and saying that "Zionists" were "losing the battle".
He then spoke to BBC Radio Leeds about the ongoing conflict, saying: "There will be a ceasefire, then there will be a period of calm.
"But during that period of calm when hopefully people are not being murdered, there will still be Palestinians who are being shot by the Israeli forces, they will still be beaten up, there will still be child detentions, that to the Israelis is peace.
"When someone is not firing a rocket at Israel, that is peace."
His latest comments have, somewhat unsurprisingly, sparked outrage from members of the public and MPs.
— Labour Press Team (@labourpress) July 22, 2014
— Stu (@romford_stu) July 22, 2014
@DavidWardMP change the record - you're a disgrace to the lib dems and to Parliament
— Stephen Gilchrist (@gilchristawake) July 22, 2014
The West is and must be on the side of peace and a negotiated lasting solution @DavidWardMP And you are no Kennedy
— Martin Shapland (@MShapland) July 22, 2014
— Nonjob (@nonjob1) July 22, 2014
Tory chairman Grant Shapps urged Mr Ward to withdraw the "appalling" comments.
.@DavidWardMP > Appalling: No MP should tweet what's essentially incitement to violence. Mr Ward must withdraw now. Completely irresponsible
— Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) July 22, 2014
Labour said the tweet was a "vile comment from a desperate Lib Dem MP".
A 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."
A spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats told Sky News Mr Ward's comments are not representative of the party and that he could face disciplinary action over the remarks.
"Nick Clegg has been at the forefront of calling for peace in Israel and Gaza," the spokesperson said.
"We utterly condemn David Ward's comments, they are not representative of the Liberal Democrats.
"The party takes this matter very seriously and will treat it as a disciplinary issue."
Another Lib Dem MP, Stephen Williams, distanced himself from his party colleague's views.
"I think Israel's response is heavy handed but Hamas rocket firing is deplorable too," he told him. "I've seen school bomb shelters in S Israel."
Former Liberal Democrat MEP Edward McMillan-Scott had to apologise after he waded into the row in Mr Ward's defence with a Twitter attack on the Board of Deputies of British Jews and editor of the Jewish Chronicle Stephen Pollard.
Mr McMillan-Scott, a former vice-president of the European Parliament who defected from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems in 2010 before losing his seat earlier this year, wrote:
— Stephen Pollard (@stephenpollard) July 23, 2014
His comment sparked a storm on Twitter, with some posts accusing him of anti-semitism - a charge he denied.
Ed McMillan-Scott has since apologised about the now deleted Tweet, but accused the editor of the Jewish Chronicle of a smear campaign.
— Ed McMillan-Scott (@emcmillanscott) July 23, 2014
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