BEIJING, Nov 20 (Reuters) – Arab and Muslim ministers called on Monday for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, as their delegation visited Beijing on the first leg of a tour to push for an end to hostilities and to allow humanitarian aid into the devastated Palestinian enclave.
The delegation, which is set to meet officials representing each of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, is also piling pressure on the West to reject Israel’s justification of its actions against Palestinians as self-defence.
The officials holding meetings with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi on Monday are from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Indonesia, Palestine and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, among others.
“We are here to send a clear signal: that is we must immediately stop the fighting and the killings, we must immediately deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud.
The extraordinary joint Islamic-Arab summit in Riyadh this month also urged the International Criminal Court to investigate “war crimes and crimes against humanity that Israel is committing” in the Palestinian territories.
Saudi Arabia has sought to press the United States and Israel for an end to hostilities in Gaza, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, gathered Arab and Muslim leaders to reinforce that message.
In comments posted by his ministry on X, formerly known as Twitter, Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry told his Chinese counterpart: “We look forward to a stronger role on the part of great powers such as China in order to stop the attacks against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, there are major countries that give cover to the current Israeli attacks.”
About 240 hostages were taken during Hamas’s deadly cross-border rampage into Israel on Oct. 7, which prompted Israel to invade the Gaza Strip with the intention of eradicating the Islamist militant group.
Gaza’s Hamas-run government said at least 13,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli bombardments since then, including at least 5,500 children.
Israeli ambassador to Beijing Irit Ben-Abba told foreign reporters at a briefing on Monday that she hoped there would not be “any statements from this visit about a ceasefire, now is not the time.”
She said that Israel hoped that the delegation would talk about hostages captured by Hamas “and call for their immediate release without preconditions,” adding that the parties involved should talk together about Egypt’s “role in facilitating humanitarian assistance.”
‘BROTHER AND FRIEND’
China’s Wang said Beijing was a “good friend and brother of Arab and Muslim countries,” adding it has “always firmly supported the just cause of the Palestinian people to restore their legitimate national rights and interests.”
Since the start of hostilities, China’s foreign ministry has repeatedly stopped short of condemning Hamas, instead calling for de-escalation and for Israel and Palestine to pursue a “two-state solution” for an independent Palestine.
Since the end of China’s nearly three years of COVID lockdowns, Xi has launched a diplomatic push aimed at countering the United States and its allies, who he says seek to contain and suppress his country.
Beijing has deepened alliances with non-Western led multilateral groups such as the BRICS bloc of nations while strengthening ties with countries in the Middle East and the Global South.
On Monday, Wang added China will work to “quell the fighting in Gaza as soon as possible, alleviate the humanitarian crisis and promote an early, comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Palestinian issue.”
China’s special envoy on the Middle East, Zhai Jun, has engaged officials from Israel and the Palestinian Authority – which governs in the occupied West Bank – as well as the Arab League and EU in the last year to discuss a two-state solution and recognition for Palestine at the United Nations.
Reporting by Yew Lun Tian, Laurie Chen and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Edmund Klamann & Simon Cameron-Moore
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.