Israel’s bombardment of Gaza runs counter to international law and risks creating a catastrophe that could last decades, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.
Lavrov made the comments, some of Moscow’s most critical of Israel yet, in an interview with the Belarusian state news agency Belta, which released them on Saturday.
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“While we condemn terrorism, we categorically disagree that you can respond to terrorism by violating the norms of international humanitarian law, including indiscriminately using force against targets where civilians are known to be present, including hostages that have been taken,” he said.
It was impossible, he added, to destroy Hamas – as Israel has pledged to do – without destroying Gaza along with most of its civilian population.
“If Gaza is destroyed and two million inhabitants are expelled, as some politicians in Israel and abroad propose, this will create a catastrophe for many decades, if not centuries,” warned Lavrov.
“It is necessary to stop, and to announce humanitarian programmes to save the population under blockade.”
Meanwhile, Hamas on Saturday was trying to locate eight Russian-Israeli dual citizens who are among the dozens of hostages it took during its attack on Israel three weeks ago, Russian news agencies reported, citing a Hamas member.
Moscow had given Hamas a list of names and requested that they be freed. “We are very attentive to this list and we will handle it carefully because we look at Russia as our closest friend,” Russian news agency RIA quoted senior Hamas representative Moussa Abu Marzook as saying.
“Now, we are looking for those people. It’s difficult, but we are looking. And as soon as we find them, we will release them. Despite the difficulties due to the current situation.”
Israel has said it believes 229 people were taken hostage by Hamas during its October 7 attack, in which more than 1,400 people were also killed. Israel has since relentlessly bombarded Gaza, killing more than 7,300 Palestinians in the strip.
Russia believes it is necessary to maintain contacts with all sides in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the Kremlin said on Friday, defending its decision to invite a Hamas delegation which included Marzouk to Moscow – a decision which prompted Israeli anger.
Israel had urged Russia on Thursday to expel the visiting Hamas members, calling their invitation to Moscow “deplorable”.
Lavrov said Russia was in close contact with Israel, too.
“We remain in full contact with Israel, and our ambassador is regularly in touch with them,” said Lavrov.
“We are sending signals about the need to seek a peaceful solution and not to follow through with this announced ‘scorched earth’ strategy.”
Kyiv and the West have accused Russia itself of bombing civilians across Ukraine. Moscow says it does not deliberately target civilians and only aims at military targets.