I would be suicide bomber in Israel, says Lib Dem MP

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Indy Politics

A senior MP provoked anger last night after claiming that she would consider becoming a suicide bomber if she was living in conditions faced by the Palestinians.

Jenny Tonge, the former Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on international development, said that she did not condone the Palestinian bombers, but said she could "understand" their actions.

Her comments, which came a week after Reem al-Riashi became the second Palestinian mother to carry out a suicide bombing, were immediately condemned as "sickening" by the Conservatives. Dr Tonge also faced a dressing down by Liberal Democrat whips over the comments to a campaign meeting at Westminster.

The MP, who once called on Tony Blair to drop "bread not bombs" on Afghanistan, told Sky News: "From minor things to major things their life does not feel like it's worth living.

"What I said was that I did not condone suicide bombers. But I do understand why people become suicide bombers. It's out of desperation."

"And I guess that if I were in their position ... and saw no hope for the future at all, I might just think about it myself," she added.

Dr Tonge, who will not be contesting her Richmond Park seat in south-west London at the next election, was condemned last night by Michael Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary. He said: "These comments will sicken those across the world who have lost loved ones to suicide bombers. There can never be an excuse for taking innocent lives, and I am surprised that Ms Tonge is voicing her support for such terror.

"Charles Kennedy should say whether he stands by her comments and, if he doesn't, he should deal with her firmly."

A Lib Dem spokesman also criticised Dr Tonge's outburst. He said: "She was expressing her personal views and certainly not speaking for the Liberal Democrats. We do not condone terrorism in any circumstances, either by suicide bombers or anybody else."

Lord Janner of Braunstone, the Labour peer and chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: "I think that for a member of either House of this Parliament to say she has sympathy with it is awful."

James Purnell, Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, who is leading a delegation of backbenchers to Israel, added: "Last night the delegation met with victims of suicide terrorism from both sides. They would be appalled by what Jenny Tonge has said."

In a statement "clarifying" her remarks Dr Tonge insisted that she did not condone terrorism. She said: "I do not condone suicide bombers or terrorism. But I do understand, having been to Palestine myself and having seen the humiliation and aggravation faced by Palestinians, why suicide bombers opt for this most desperate of actions.

"To say that I understand why they take this action does not mean that I condone it. The world is not listening to the plight of these people. The Middle East peace process is failing Palestinians and Israeli citizens alike. It is about time world leaders took serious action to resolve the Middle East crisis, rather than look the other way."