China calls for immediate cease-fire as Gaza conflict defies Ramadan
Published: Mar 12, 2024 10:36 PM
Delegates to the Security Council gather at the United Nations Headquarters on March 11, 2024 in New York City, to discuss the situation in the Middle East including steps needed for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Photo: VCG

Delegates to the Security Council gather at the United Nations Headquarters on March 11, 2024 in New York City, to discuss the situation in the Middle East including steps needed for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Photo: VCG

A cease-fire in Gaza has not materialized despite the arrival of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with international concern over the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis ramping up. China on Tuesday called for an immediate cease-fire and ensuring access to humanitarian aid for the people in the region. 

Chinese analysts said the conflict will likely continue, and even though both Israel and Hamas are tired, neither side can find an acceptable way out to end the war. The US-led mediation was unfair to the Palestinians because a "temporary cease-fire" based on prisoner swaps is unreliable and unsustainable. The US' unilateral approach and vetoes of a cease-fire, have derailed UN Security Council mechanisms, which means that the conflict will continue. 

Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a routine press conference on Tuesday that "The current round of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has lasted for more than five months, exceeding the duration of all Middle East wars except the first one, resulting in a particularly high number of deaths, especially among civilians, surpassing all previous Middle East conflicts."

According to the latest data provided by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, since the beginning of the conflict on October 7, 2023, more than 30,228 Palestinians have been killed, and about 71,377 have been injured, mostly civilians. More than 1,200 Israelis were killed, and about 5,432 injured. The UN estimates that about 1.7 million people are displaced in Gaza.  

"The killing of Gaza civilians must stop, the injustice toward the Palestinian people must be corrected, and the double standards in dealing with human rights and international humanitarian law must be abandoned. The longer the flames in Gaza flare up, the more the humanity is scourged by conscience, the more the cornerstone of justice is eroded," Wang said. 

The international community must act urgently to set the immediate cease-fire as an overwhelming priority and the humanitarian aid in Gaza as a pressing moral responsibility, the spokesperson urged. 

Hard to find way out

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that "Even though Ramadan has begun, the killing, bombing and bloodshed continue in Gaza... My strongest appeal today is to honor the spirit of Ramadan by silencing the guns and removing all obstacles to ensure the delivery of lifesaving aid at the speed and massive scale required."

All remaining Israeli hostages or prisoners taken by Hamas must be released immediately too, the UN chief said, noting that the "catastrophic Israeli onslaught in Gaza" is now in its sixth month.

Egypt, Qatar and the US had sought to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas before the start of Ramadan on Monday, and there had been optimism for a last-minute deal that would allow for the release of some Israeli hostages held in Gaza and Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, The New York Times reported on Sunday.

But weeks of indirect negotiations have stalled, and a top Hamas political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said in a televised speech on Sunday that Hamas wanted an agreement that would end the war, guarantee the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, return displaced Palestinians to their homes and provide for the humanitarian needs of Gazans. Israel "wants to get its prisoners back and then resume the war on our people," he said, according to the report. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he intends to press ahead with an invasion of the city of Rafah on the southern border of the Gaza Strip in defiance of US President Joe Biden, who has warned such an offensive would be a "red line."  Netanyahu blames Hamas for not releasing Israeli hostages, Politico reported on Sunday.

As to why the US-proposed deal has failed to reach a halt in hostilities, Mei Hualong, an assistant professor at Peking University on Middle East studies, said the deal was unfair for the Palestinians so Hamas believes they would rather continue the fight to let Israel keep suffering from the pressure. 

"If Gaza's border remained blockaded by Israel during the pause while Israeli forces receive further supplies from the US that will enable them to restart the conflict and cause more bloodshed, it would not be a fair deal for Hamas and the people in Gaza, and this is why the US was unable to broker a deal," Mei noted. 

Unfortunately, during this process, the UN Security Council cannot play an effective role as long as the US continues with its stance and approach for mediation, said Liu Zhongmin, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University.

The almost-daily phone calls stopped months ago. Now tensions between Biden and Netanyahu have burst into the open as the two leaders bicker publicly, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday. 

Late last week, the US announced its army would build a pier to bring aid to civilians in Gaza, with food short and relief groups warning of famine amid Israel's assault. Biden demanded the Israeli leader "pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost," warning that "he is hurting Israel more than helping Israel," according to the report. 

While on the surface the issue of a Gaza cease-fire is causing tensions between Biden and Netanyahu, the US has also repeatedly vetoed resolutions for immediate cease-fire proposed by many countries in the UN Security Council, giving Israel the green light to continue its deadly operations in Gaza, Liu noted. 

In other words, the US does not want the UN Security Council to play a key role in mediating the conflict, as Washington wants to take the credit alone if there is any possibility of a cease-fire. Now, although the relationship between Biden and Netanyahu is tense, the US is still not imposing enough pressure to stop the killing in Gaza, experts said.