China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has told his Israeli counterpart that Beijing was “deeply saddened” by the large number of civilian deaths in the escalating Israel-Hamas war and urged steps to prevent a further escalation in violence and establish a lasting peace.
The conflict, which erupted on October 7, represented a “major choice between war and peace”, Wang told Eli Cohen in a phone conversation, China’s state media reported on Tuesday.
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The Chinese foreign minister, who is due to visit the United States later this week, acknowledged that every country had a right to self-defence, but “they should abide by international humanitarian law and protect the safety of civilians”.
China has condemned the conflict that began after the Hamas armed group launched a surprise attack on Israel that killed at least 1,400 people.
The Israeli government responded with a declaration of war on the Hamas-controlled enclave of Gaza, cutting off its supplies of food, water and power and subjecting the densely populated territory to relentless bombardment. About 2.3 million people live in Gaza, and more than 5,000 people have been killed in the past two weeks.
Wang told Cohen that China was “deeply concerned about the continued escalation of the conflict and the worsening situation, and deeply saddened by the large number of civilian casualties caused by the conflict,” according to the Xinhua news agency.
China has sought to position itself as a peacemaker in the conflict, and its special envoy to the Middle East Zhai Jun is currently on a tour of the region.
On Monday, Zhai said Beijing was willing to do “whatever is conducive” to promote dialogue, secure a ceasefire and restore peace. The envoy is due to travel to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday and will remain in the region in the coming days, according to the foreign ministry.
Wang also spoke on the phone with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki, voicing his concern and sympathy for the large number of civilians killed in Gaza, and the urgent need to stop the war. Malki is part of the Palestinian Authority that is separate from Hamas.
The Chinese foreign minister “condemned the Israeli attacks on hospitals and schools, which target civilians and violate international law, and stressed the need to stop the mass killing and the displacement policy”, according to the WAFA news agency.
During his phone calls, Wang called for greater international cooperation to end the crisis and seek a lasting solution to the conflict. He reiterated China’s support for a two-state solution.
The United Nations Security Council needed to “effectively shoulder its responsibility”, he said, and that “countries outside the region, especially major powers, should be objective and impartial”.
The Security Council has so far been unable to secure support for a ceasefire resolution after the United States vetoed a resolution on the issue last week. The 15-member council is currently considering a new resolution drafted by the US, which is Israel’s staunchest ally and backed its right to defend itself in the conflict with Hamas.
The UN General Assembly has now said it will hold a special emergency session on the conflict.
“When the Security Council is unable to act, the General Assembly must step up,” Dennis Francis, the president of the UN General Assembly, said after announcing he would convene the meeting of the 193-member body on Thursday.