By John Geddie and Kiyoshi Takenaka
TOKYO (Reuters) -Palestine’s mission to Japan called on Tokyo to maintain humanitarian aid to Palestinians on Friday and play a neutral role in the conflict between the Hamas militant group and Israel.
The plea came as Israel amassed tanks near the Palestinian enclave of Gaza ahead of an expected ground invasion after Saturday’s devastating attack on Israel by Hamas.
Tel Aviv on Thursday said Japan should be vigilant in providing aid and look more closely at what Hamas was doing with the aid Japan provided to Palestinians.
“I plead for the Japanese to continue humanitarian aid to the Palestinians,” Waleed Siam, representative of the Permanent General Mission of Palestine to Japan, told a news conference in Tokyo.
“Japan is a neutral and can continue playing a neutral role between the Palestinians and Israelis. I don’t think America, the United States, can play that role anymore,” he said.
Siam said he condemned violence on both sides of the conflict but alleged Israel was using the attacks as part of a plan to “destroy” the enclave and displace its people.
Japan, which calls for a political solution to allow Israel and a future independent Palestinian state to coexist, has provided $2.3 billion of assistance to Palestinians over the last decade, according to a foreign ministry document.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa told her Israeli counterpart on Thursday the Hamas attacks cannot be justified for any reason and that Israel had the right to defend itself and its people under international law.
Kamikawa also talked with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki on Friday and told him Japan resolutely condemns unjustifiable attacks on and the abduction of innocent ordinary citizens by Hamas.
But Japan’s response to the crisis has been more restrained than other major developed countries.
Japanese officials initially referred to Hamas as Palestinian militants and avoided the term terrorism, before joining Group of Seven nations in condemning the attacks in Israel as “terrorist acts”.
Japan has arranged a charter flight from Tel Aviv on Saturday for its citizens wishing to leave Israel, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters on Friday. Tokyo also plans to dispatch military aircraft to Djibouti to help Japanese nationals evacuate from Israel.
(Reporting by John Geddie and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Sonali Paul, Lincoln Feast, Nick Macfie and Christina Fincher)