China’s special envoy for the Middle East called for humanitarian support for the Palestinian people in his first public response to Hamas’ attack on Israel — an assault that is testing Beijing’s ambitions to play peacemaker in the region.
(Bloomberg) — China’s special envoy for the Middle East called for humanitarian support for the Palestinian people in his first public response to Hamas’ attack on Israel — an assault that is testing Beijing’s ambitions to play peacemaker in the region.
Zhai Jun, who has served as China’s special envoy on Middle East issues since 2019, made the call for aid in a telephone conversation with an official at Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry late on Tuesday.
“China is ready to coordinate with Egypt to promote an immediate ceasefire between the two sides of the conflict,” Zhai said, repeating Beijing’s earlier call for an end to the hostilities and condemnation of violence against civilians. He called for action to prevent a worsening of “the humanitarian crisis in Palestine, especially in Gaza.”
Xi hasn’t spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas since the conflict broke out Saturday, according to public statements. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson on Tuesday didn’t directly answer a question about whether Xi would call those leaders.
The combined death toll from the war has approached 2,000 and Israel’s military says it’s building a base for thousands of soldiers in preparation for the next phase of its retaliation. Hamas, which the US and Europe have declared a terrorist group, said late Monday it was prepared to kill hostages that it had taken if Israel attacks.
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The United Nations humanitarian office said on Tuesday that more than 187,500 people, or nearly one-tenth of the population, have been displaced across the Gaza strip since Saturday. It also warned that Israel’s decision to cut off the water supply to Gaza could cause “a severe shortage of already scarce drinkable water.”
China has so far avoided blaming any party for the violence and repeated its support for independent Palestinian statehood as part of a two-state solution. Beijing said it’s a friend to both sides, but its refusal to condemn Hamas’ violence risks upsetting Israel, a key trade and technological partner.
In a show of China’s ambitions to play a bigger role in the Middle East, Xi hosted Abbas in Beijing in June and offered to help resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, proposing an international peace conference. The visit came after Xi took credit for brokering a detente between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
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Zhai, who last served as China’s ambassador to France, is tasked with elevating Beijing influence in the Middle East, which China relies on to meet its vast energy needs.
Over the last year he has visited Jerusalem and Ramallah to meet with senior officials from both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which governs the occupied West Bank. He has also engaged the Arab League, EU and the UN to discuss how to resolve the Palestinian question.
A career diplomat who studied Arabic in Cairo University in the 70s, Zhai in 2021 sought to facilitate peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis during days of intense fighting. A truce was eventually brokered by Egypt, which ended the 11-day conflict that claimed more than 200 lives, mostly Palestinians in Gaza. At the end of that crisis, China donated $1 million to Palestinian refugees through a UN agency that provides food assistance in Gaza.
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