Xi says China 'deeply pained' by 'severe' Gaza situation

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hold talks in Beijing (TINGSHU WANG)
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hold talks in Beijing (TINGSHU WANG)

President Xi Jinping told his Egyptian counterpart on Wednesday that China was "deeply pained" by the "extremely severe" situation in Gaza, as Beijing hosts Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and several other Arab leaders.

The talks between Xi, Sisi and other Arab dignitaries in China this week are aimed at building consensus between Beijing and the Arab nations, as well as presenting a "common voice" on the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

China has good relations with Israel but has supported the Palestinian cause for decades and has campaigned for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The current round of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has caused a large number of innocent Palestinian civilian casualties and the humanitarian situation in Gaza is extremely severe. China is deeply pained," Xi told Sisi in Beijing, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

"The top priority task now is an immediate ceasefire, in order to avoid spillover of conflict, impact on regional peace and stability, and so as to prevent a more serious humanitarian crisis," Xi said.

Egypt, along with Qatar and the United States, have been engaged for months in talks aimed at securing a lasting truce between Israel and Hamas, accompanied by the release of hostages kidnapped by the Palestinian militant group.

"China appreciates the important role played by Egypt in cooling down the situation and delivering humanitarian relief," Xi said.

He said China was ready to work with Egypt to continue to assist the people of Gaza "and push for an early, comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Palestinian issue".

- Grand ceremony -

Xi met Sisi in a grand ceremony outside Beijing's Great Hall of People on Wednesday afternoon, state media footage showed, with the national anthems of both countries blaring out.

During their discussion, Sisi stressed the need to stop the fighting in Gaza, "the extreme danger of Israeli military operations" underway in the Gazan city of Rafah, and "the resulting humanitarian tragedies and casualties", the Egyptian presidency said in a statement.

In recent years, Beijing has sought to build closer ties with Arab states and brokered a detente between Tehran and its long-time foe Saudi Arabia last year.

Beijing also hosted rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah last month for "in-depth and candid talks on promoting intra-Palestinian reconciliation".

United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan is among the delegates attending the forum, as well as a host of other regional leaders and diplomats.

Xi is set to deliver a keynote speech at the opening ceremony on Thursday, Beijing has said, aimed at building "common consensus" between China and Arab states.

Top of the agenda will be the war between Israel and Hamas, for which Xi has sought an "international peace conference".

- 'Strategic opportunity' -

China sees a "strategic opportunity to boost its reputation and standing in the Arab world" by framing its efforts to end the conflict against US inaction, Ahmed Aboudouh, an associate fellow with the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa Programme, told AFP.

"This, in turn, serves Beijing's focus on undermining the US's credibility and influence in the region."

"The longer the war, the easier for China to pursue this objective," he said.

The Israeli military has pushed on with its campaign to defeat Hamas in the war triggered by the Palestinian Islamist movement's October 7 attack in southern Israel.

That attack resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met counterparts from Yemen and Sudan in Beijing on Tuesday, saying he hoped to "strengthen solidarity and coordination" with the Arab world.

He also raised with his Yemeni counterpart Shayea Mohsen al-Zindani China's concerns over disruptive attacks on Red Sea shipping by Iran-backed Huthi forces acting in solidarity with Hamas.

"China calls for an end to the harassment of civilian vessels and to ensure the safety of waterways in the Red Sea," state news agency Xinhua quoted him as saying.

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