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Pressure is mounting on deputy prime minister Nick Clegg to speak out against the killing of 19 protesters on the Freedom Flotilla - following his own demands for tougher action against the Israeli blockade of Palestine.

Nick CleggThe Liberal Democrat has not yet spoken out to condemn the raiding of the boats and death of unarmed civilian peace protesters. Today's events could cause a serious rift in the coalition Government with the pro-Israeli Conservatives.

Writing in the Guardian in December last year - on the first anniversary of Israeli attack on Gaza that killed 1,300 Palestinians - the Lib Dem leader said it was a "scandal that the international community has sat on its hands in the face of this unfolding crisis".

The question this afternoon - as hundreds of protesters head to Downing Street to demand Government action - is whether Nick Clegg will sit on his hands in a further humiliating compromise with his new Conservative masters.

Clegg's article in Comment is Free, said: "And what has the British government and the international community done to lift the blockade? Next to nothing. Tough-sounding declarations are issued at regular intervals but little real pressure is applied. It is a scandal that the international community has sat on its hands in the face of this unfolding crisis.

"No doubt the febrile sensitivities of the Middle East have deterred governments, caught between recriminations from both sides. No doubt diplomats have warned that exerting pressure on Israel and Egypt may complicate the peace process.

"But surely the consequences of not lifting the blockade are far more grave? How is the peace process served by sickness, mortality rates, mental trauma and malnutrition increasing in Gaza? Is it not in Israel's enlightened self-interest to relieve the humanitarian suffering?

"The peace process is in serious trouble right now. Internal Israeli politics limits any meaningful room for manoeuvre, illegal settlement activity in the West Bank continues, and leadership of the Palestinians is divided and incoherent. A two-state solution, long the accepted bedrock of any agreement, is being openly questioned.

"But paralysis in the peace process cannot be an excuse for the inhumane treatment of one and a half million people, the majority of them under 18 years old. No peaceful coexistence of any kind is possible as long as this act of collective confinement continues."

Lindsey German, convener of Stop the War Coalition, said: "The Liberal Democrats have proven to be opportunist hypocrites in Government and have betrayed all those who voted them as progressives on Palestine - just like they did on the nuclear rearmament.

"We in the stop the war movement remember the Lib Dems supported the Iraq invasion as soon as it actually took place. This shows that progressives looking for a 'new kind of politics' must look elsewhere for a real, principled alternative."

Michael Mansfield QC, the leading human rights lawyer and socialist, called on Clegg eleven days ago to support the Freedom Flotilla and quoted the Lib Dem's record of supporting the Palestinians.

The letter in the Guardian on May 20 said: "As I write, a flotilla of ships convened by a collective of courageous individuals is heading towards the coast of Gaza laden with cement for the long overdue reconstruction and school books for the children.

"The Israeli navy regularly and illegally restricts Palestinian territorial waters and prevents lawful activity by Palestinians and the entry of humanitarian aid.

"It is utterly predictable, given the Israeli flagrant disregard for international law, that they will attack this flotilla. You are now in a position to implement the policies you expressed in your article."

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