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Chinese FM calls 5-month-old Gaza conflict 'disgrace for civilization'


 , Updated 21:43, 07-Mar-2024

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday termed the ongoing conflict in Gaza a "disgrace for civilization" and called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire as fighting between Israel and Palestinian armed group Hamas stretched into its sixth month despite mediation efforts.

Talks on a ceasefire and hostage exchange have been held in Egypt, but there is significant public divergence between Israel and Hamas, and mediators have struggled to overcome these obstacles.

U.S. President Joe Biden has urged Hamas to accept a truce plan before Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, which could begin as early as Sunday depending on the sighting of the crescent moon.

Despite speculation that negotiations were at an impasse, U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Wednesday that a truce accord was still possible.

The Biden administration, which has shown considerable support for Israel, has repeatedly blocked United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding an immediate ceasefire.

Noting that the failure to end the humanitarian disaster caused by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict today in the 21st century is a "tragedy for humanity and a disgrace for civilization," Wang, also a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, called on the international community to act to give priority to an immediate ceasefire.

"We support Palestine's full membership in the UN and urge certain UN Security Council member to stop laying obstacles to that end," Wang said.

China has been calling for an end to the conflict since it broke out on October 7, when Hamas fighters stormed southern Israel in a surprise attack that led to the deaths of around 1,200 people, with 253 taken hostage, prompting Israel's retaliation.

The five-month-old war in Gaza has sent ripples across the Middle East, with groups aligned with Iran launching attacks on Israel and U.S. forces based in the region. Fears were mounting that the Gaza conflict could spread, especially after a series of attacks on vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden by Houthi forces acting in solidarity with the Palestinians.

In the latest strike, at least three sailors were killed in a Houthi attack on a Greek-owned freighter, U.S. military officials said, the first deaths reported since the Yemeni group began the strikes against shipping in one of the world's busiest sea lanes.

The U.S. State Department said it would continue to "hold the Houthis accountable" for such attacks.

'All-out famine'

South Africa, which in January brought a case to the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, in The Hague accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza, on Wednesday asked the court to order new emergency measures, including a stop to hostilities, because Palestinian civilians were facing starvation.

"The threat of all-out famine has now materialized. The court needs to act now to stop the imminent tragedy," the South African presidency said in a statement.

The Gaza-based Health Ministry said two Palestinians, aged 15 and 72, died of dehydration and malnutrition in Al Shifa and Kamal Adwan hospitals on Wednesday, raising the toll of such deaths in just over a week to 20, at least half of them children.

Gazans were waiting to collect bags of flour outside a UN refugee agency office in the southern city of Rafah, now home to nearly 1.5 million Palestinians, most of them displaced by the war.

Aid lorries have been entering southern Gaza through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing and the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing during the war, but only limited aid has reached Gaza's north, where assistance has been cut off in recent months and where the UN's World Food Program has warned that hunger has reached "catastrophic levels."

Last Thursday, more than 110 people were killed as they waited for an aid delivery in Gaza City, an incident that local authorities blamed on Israeli forces while Israel attributed it to crowds surrounding the aid trucks.

Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, France, the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates have conducted aid airdrop operations over Gaza in recent weeks, but such operations are considered inefficient due to the limited amount of supplies that each plane can carry.

(With input from agencies)

(Cover: Palestinians line up for free food during the ongoing Israeli air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip in Rafah, January 9, 2024. /CFP)

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