Russia’s Lavrov warns Israel-Gaza war could spark regional crisis

Foreign minister says efforts to blame Iran for the conflict are provocations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov [File: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has warned that the conflict in Gaza risks spilling into a regional crisis, saying efforts to pin blame on Iran were adding fuel to the fire, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

The remarks by Russia’s top diplomat on Thursday came days after President Vladimir Putin said he believed no major actors wanted the war between Israel and Hamas to escalate.

This week, Russia proposed amendments to a draft UN resolution that would have called for an “immediate full” ceasefire and ending attacks on civilians, but it was rejected by the Security Council. The final draft, which called only for humanitarian pauses, was vetoed by the United States, with Russia abstaining.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the draft had “no clear call for a ceasefire” and would “not help to stop the bloodshed”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin cut the ribbon to unveil the Memorial Candle monument in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020 to commemorate the people of Leningrad during the Second World War Nazi siege on the city. (Photo by Amit SHABI / POOL / AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin cut the ribbon to unveil the Memorial Candle monument in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020 [Amit Shabi/Pool via AFP]

Russia has so far taken a careful approach to the latest escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that erupted on October 7, when Hamas fighters launched an unprecedented attack inside Israel that has killed some 1,400 people. Since the attack, about 3,500 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Moscow offered a delayed statement affirming Israel’s right to defend itself after Hamas’s attack, which also killed at least 16 Russian citizens, but denounced Israel for responding with “cruel methods”.

“In my view it is unacceptable,” said Putin of Israel’s air campaign in Gaza. “More than 2 million people live there [in Gaza]. Far from all of them support Hamas by the way, far from all. But all of them have to suffer, including women and children.”

Russia, which supports an independent Palestinian state with occupied East Jerusalem as its capital, has not labelled Hamas a “terrorist” group like many Western states.

Putin, meanwhile, has over the years maintained close ties with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu despite key foreign policy clashes between the two states, including over the war in Syria.

‘Failed US policy’

In his first public statement on the crisis on October 10, the Russian president pointed the finger at the United States for playing a “destructive” role saying the conflict is a “vivid example” of Washington’s failed policy.

“[They] tried to monopolise regulating [the conflict], but was unfortunately unconcerned with finding compromises acceptable for both sides,” Putin said, according to the Moscow Times.

Lavrov on Thursday also said efforts to blame Iran for the war were “provocations” in a likely reference to the US.

While the US has not directly blamed Iran for involvement in Hamas’s attack, it has said Tehran is “broadly complicit” due to its longtime backing of the Palestinian group. US President Biden has also warned Iran to be “careful” not to escalate the conflict.

Iran celebrated the Hamas assault but insisted it was not involved.

As Russia engages in its own war with neighbouring state Ukraine, for which it has drawn widespread Western condemnation, analysts say it may also view the Israel-Gaza conflict as a welcome distraction.

“This conflict is a boon for Russia because it diverts a huge amount of attention of the United States and the West,” Alexander Gabuev, director of Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, told the AFP news agency.

On Thursday, Russia announced it had sent 27 tonnes of humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza to be transported via Egypt following an explosion at a hospital on Tuesday that killed hundreds of people. Putin called the “strike on the hospital” a “catastrophe” and pressed for urgent negotiations.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies