Humanitarian crisis looms as Israel poised for ground operation
Global Times, October 12, 2023 —
As the casualties keep climbing in the Gaza Strip, Chinese observers warned a humanitarian crisis in the region is unavoidable if the fighting between Hamas and Israel doesn’t stop. The observers also said such a crisis, if caused by atrocities, could trigger a public opinion explosion and reverse the political situation at certain tipping point. At this juncture, the US, which can exert real influence on Israel, is urged to pressure Israel to cool down its offensive in Gaza, instead of further stoking tension in the Middle East.
Western media has been piling pressure on China to condemn Hamas. Chinese observers said that it is illogical to ask China to pick sides in a conflict that’s partly caused by Western colonization and exacerbated by US biased Middle East policies. China’s impartiality in responding to this crisis remains consistent, said the experts, noting China is also willing to provide convenience for the negotiation between Palestine and Israel if necessary.
The Israeli military said on Thursday it is preparing for a possible ground operation in Gaza but that the political leadership has not yet decided on one. Israeli Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht said on Thursday that forces “are preparing for a ground maneuver if decided.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Wednesday that Israel would “crush and destroy” the Hamas militant group.
According to the AP, the conflict has already claimed at least 2,300 lives on both sides, following an increase in Israeli bombardments on the sixth day since Hamas’ surprise attack. More than 338,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in Gaza, the UN said, as food, fuel and medical supplies dwindle.
Three Chinese nationals were killed and two are missing in the conflict, the Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed on Thursday, noting that several others are injured. The relevant Chinese diplomatic missions abroad are fully coordinating the treatment of the injured and handling the aftermath for the deceased, said the ministry.
The risk of a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip is mounting and will become even more likely if the Israeli army launches a ground operation, as Gaza is densely populated and Hamas can easily mingle with civilians, which makes army forces difficult to identify, Tian Wenlin, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times.
Soaring death toll and exacerbated dilemma in Gaza will probably lead to overwhelming sympathy toward people in Palestine, whose military power pales in comparison with Israel’s. That scenario (public opinion sympathetic to Palestinians) is also what Hamas wants, said Zhu Weilie, the director of the Middle East Studies Institute of the Shanghai International Studies University.
Netanyahu and centrist opposition leader Benny Gantz, a former defence minister and military chief of staff, have agreed to form an emergency unity government, Gantz’s National Unity party said on Wednesday. Chinese observers see this union as a signal that Israel is going to take tougher actions against Hamas.
Palestinian medical sources said recently that Israel on Wednesday targeted the western port area of Gaza with several white phosphorus bombs, resulting in hundreds of cases of suffocation. In response, a spokesperson from the UN said on Wednesday that the UN hasn’t seen any report of this regard.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Wednesday voiced grave concern over the escalating conflict in Israel and Gaza. “I appeal to all parties – and those who have an influence over those parties – to avoid any further escalation and spillover,” he told reporters at the UN Headquarters in New York.
Tian noted that the US can exert influence on Israel to cool down its continuous offense in the Gaza Strip. However, what Washington is doing is to fuel the already tensed situation by sending warships and unilaterally condemning Hamas, rather than ask Israel to stop bombardment in the Gaza Strip, according to Tian.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Israel on Thursday in a show of support for Israel after Hamas surprise attack. The US could soon have two aircraft carriers in the eastern Mediterranean, US media Politico cited Defense Department officials as saying.
If Washington really wants to mediate the crisis, it should sit both sides down for negotiations, instead of sending warships to the Middle East to boost Israel’s morale, Zhu told the Global Times. He said the way the US is stoking tension will prolong the conflict, thus lead to the death of more civilians, as well as bigger humanitarian crisis.
In an interview with Phoenix published on Thursday, Palestinian Ambassador to China Fariz Mehdawi said China has been asking for a collective effort to solve the conflicts in the Middle East, “but has never been accepted by the US unfortunately, because they kept it within the Quartet as if China doesn’t exist. They [the Americans] think the Middle East is their own garden, they have to keep control of everything for them … And we are paying the price of this monopoly. In short, it’s a selfish foreign policy which is irresponsible in my opinion.”
West shifts blame
China remains deeply concerned over the escalating situation which has resulted in numerous innocent civilian casualties and over the serious deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation in Palestine, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a Thursday briefing, noting that China will maintain communication with relevant parties to promote ceasefire and help alleviate an unfolding humanitarian crisis.
Zhai Jun, special envoy of the Chinese government on the Middle East issue, on Thursday had a phone conversation with Rafi Harpaz, the Deputy Director General in charge of Asia-Pacific affairs of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Zhai noted that China is deeply concerned over the escalating tension and violence and is saddened by the civilian casualties. China condemns the acts that harm innocent civilians and calls for an immediate ceasefire and cessation of violence.
China has no self-interest in the Palestinian question and has always stood on the side of peace and justice. China sincerely hopes for peaceful coexistence between Israel and Palestine and is willing to work with the international community to promote peace and create conditions for its realization, said Zhai.
Zhai also had phone calls with Amal Jadou, first deputy minister of foreign affairs of Palestine, and Osama Khedr, assistant minister of the Palestine department in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry separately in recent days.
However, some Western media outlets started to hype China’s response to the conflict, and said China stopped short of condemning Hamas. An article published in The Diplomat on Wednesday said that “China’s Response to the Israel-Hamas Conflict Reflects Its Longstanding Support for Palestine.” US media Politico ran another article calling China’s response to Hamas’ attack “soft message.”
Tian said the Western media is shifting groundless blame to China. “The root of the conflicts is partly the result of the British colonization, and US’ long-term disregard of Palestine requests. Now that the bomb Western countries planted a long time ago has exploded, they are blaming China for not condemning Hamas. Where is the logic?” said Tian.
As a matter of fact, the burst of the current Palestine-Israel conflicts is a proof that China’s proposal of a two-state solution is the right way, Liu Zhongmin, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times.
China’s impartiality in Palestine-Israel conflicts remain consistent, said Zhu. China has offered many times to provide convenience for the negotiation between Palestine and Israel, and China will continue to do this if necessary.