BRICS urges immediate ceasefire in Gaza, S.Africa decries ‘genocide’

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Russia's President Vladimir Putin attending a virtual summit of the BRICS group of nations (the bloc that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to discuss the situation in Gaza, in Moscow on Nov 21, 2023. (AFP)
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  • "There can be no sustainable peace and security in the Middle East without a just solution to the question of Palestine," Chinese President Xi Jinping said.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said a "long-term and sustainable ceasefire" was key to "prevent other states from being drawn into the war".

Johannesburg,¬†South Africa — The leaders of the BRICS group of nations called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza on Tuesday, during an extraordinary summit where chair South Africa accused Israel of war crimes and “genocide” in the Palestinian territory.

Pretoria hosted a virtual meeting of BRICS — a group of major emerging economies that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — aimed at drawing up a common response to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

“All parties in the conflicts should immediately cease fire and hostilities, stop all violence and attacks targeting civilians, and release civilian detainees to avoid more loss of lives and suffering,” Chinese President Xi Jinping told the summit.

Fighting has raged in Gaza after Hamas gunmen killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, during cross-border raids on October 7 — the deadliest attack in Israel’s history.

In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas.

According to Hamas, the war has killed more than 13,300 people, thousands of them children.

“The collective punishment of Palestinian civilians through the unlawful use of force by Israel is a war crime. The deliberate denial of medicine, fuel, food and water to the residents of Gaza is tantamount to genocide,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

On Tuesday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said a truce agreement with Israel was in sight, with mediator Qatar adding negotiations to free hostages seized by the Palestinian Islamist group were at their “closest point” to a deal.

Leaders and representatives of BRICS said a long-term diplomatic solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was needed to ensure peace, with Xi calling for an “international peace conference” to achieve that goal.

“There can be no sustainable peace and security in the Middle East without a just solution to the question of Palestine,” Xi said, speaking through an interpreter.

‘Barbaric acts’

China has historically been sympathetic to the Palestinians and supportive of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And it has this year sought to play a greater role in the Middle East, facilitating a historic rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran and sending an envoy to the region to push for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

BRICS, an acronym for its member countries, sees itself as a counterweight to the US and Western-led global order.

Describing Hamas’s attacks and hostage taking as “barbaric acts” Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said they did “not justify the use of indiscriminate and disproportionate force against civilians”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has accused the West of stoking tensions in the Middle East and criticized Israel for its conduct in the conflict, said a “long-term and sustainable ceasefire” was key to “prevent other states from being drawn into the war”.

‘Two state solution’

“The concerns of the Palestinian people must be addressed in a serious and sustainable manner, this can only happen with the two-state solution that is based on peaceful coexistence,” said India’s foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Representatives from Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates — countries that are all due to join BRICS in January 2024 — were also invited to the talks.

South Africa has long been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party often linking it to its own struggle against apartheid.

Earlier this month, it recalled all its diplomats from Israel and last week it joined four other nations in calling for an International Criminal Court investigation into the conflict.

On Monday, Israel’s foreign ministry said it had also recalled its ambassador to Pretoria for consultations.

The summit came as a delegation of foreign ministers of the Palestinian Authority, Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are in Beijing this week for talks aimed at a “de-escalation” of the conflict.

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