Israel sends delegation for cease-fire, hostage release talks 'to respond to intl pressure'
Published: Mar 19, 2024 10:02 PM
People walk past destroyed buildings in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, on March 6, 2024. The Palestinian death toll from ongoing Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip has risen to 30,717 with 72,156 others wounded, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said in a press statement on Wednesday.(Photo: Xinhua)

People walk past destroyed buildings in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, on March 6, 2024. Photo: Xinhua

Israel reportedly sent a delegation to Qatar for talks on a Gaza cease-fire and prisoner exchange local time on Monday. Chinese observers view such diplomatic work by Israel as a way to respond to international pressure to some extent. However, fundamentally, they will not change Israel's brutal military actions in Gaza, as the talks are unlikely to explore ways to fundamentally resolve the crisis but rather serve as temporary, utilitarian negotiations to retrieve hostages. 

According to a New York Times report, Israeli officials said the broad proposal being discussed includes a 42-day pause in the fighting in exchange for the release of 40 of more than 100 hostages taken from Israel and held in Gaza by Hamas or its allies. But they emphasized that they expected reaching an agreement to take a long time.

The Israeli officials said Hamas's new proposal included details that were unacceptable to Israel. Hamas leaders have been publicly calling for a comprehensive cease-fire and complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israeli officials have repeatedly rejected the demands, according to the New York Times. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for immediate action to prevent famine in northern Gaza, a disaster that he described as "entirely" man-made, as since the outbreak of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, 31,700 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed, and nearly 73,800 others injured amid mass destruction and shortages of necessities, the latest data shows. 

It's been over five months since the Gaza conflict broke out. The humanitarian situation on the ground has become extremely dire. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said at a regular press conference on Tuesday. 

Commenting on Israel's military attack on Monday on the largest medical facility in Gaza, Al-Shifa Hospital, Lin noted that the struggling hospital is an epitome of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. At least 20 people were killed in the attack. 

"Currently the top priority is to achieve an immediate ceasefire, do everything possible to protect civilians, avoid more casualties and ease the humanitarian crisis. Relevant members of the international community need to take substantive measures and make a great effort to this end," the spokesperson said. 

"One of the obvious drivers behind Israel's move is mounting pressure from the international community, including opposing voices from the conventionally pro-Israel Western world," Cui Heng, a scholar from the Shanghai-based China National Institute for SCO International Exchange and Judicial Cooperation, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

The situation on the Gaza battlefield has become more complicated than Israel expected, so it needs time to rearrange its military forces, Cui said. 

US President Joe Biden spoke by phone US local time Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in their first known interaction in more than a month, CNN reported.  

During the call, the White House said the leaders discussed two key areas where tension has emerged in the relationship, including the necessity of getting more humanitarian aid into Gaza and the pending Israeli operation in Rafah, where more than a million Palestinian civilians are sheltering.

Biden said in an interview last weekend that an invasion of Rafah would amount to a "red line," though did not delineate how he would respond and said he would never cut off support for Israel entirely, the CNN report said.

Commenting on the Biden-Netanyahu phone call, Liu Zhongmin, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Tuesday that it simply continues America's hypocrisy in handling the crisis in Gaza. 

"While the US set military ground forces entering Rafah as a red line, it fails to specify the consequences if it's violated by Israel. The US emphasizes humanitarian aid but repeatedly vetoed cease-fire calls at the UN Security Council level," Liu said.

It is increasingly evident that the Biden administration has placed itself in a dilemma in handling the crisis, and the cruelty in Gaza would no doubt weigh on Biden's re-election, Cui said. 

"In essence, the US cannot exert effective pressure on Israel, change its current unilateral strategic approach, or prevent more brutal humanitarian crises in Gaza," Liu warned. 

For Israel, Netanyahu has increasingly seen the Gaza operation as a gamble for his political survival, making it unrealistic to expect him to abandon the current military actions, Chinese analysts said.