At BRICS meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping calls for immediate ceasefire in Gaza

India condemns civilian deaths but stops short of demanding a ceasefire, as PM Narendra Modi skips virtual BRICS summit; after Arab and Muslim nations lobby China, Mr. Xi calls for a two-state solution

Updated - November 22, 2023 08:37 am IST

Published - November 21, 2023 10:11 pm IST - NEW DELHI

In this video framegrab of a feed distributed by South Africa’s Presidency, China’s Xi Jinping joins other BRICS leaders for a virtual meeting of leaders of developing countries on Novemnber 21, 2023.

In this video framegrab of a feed distributed by South Africa’s Presidency, China’s Xi Jinping joins other BRICS leaders for a virtual meeting of leaders of developing countries on Novemnber 21, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

All parties involved in the Israel-Palestinian conflict should immediately ceasefire and suspend hostilities, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared on November 21. At the same meeting of the BRICS group, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar condemned the killing of civilians in the conflict, but stopped short of echoing the Chinese demand for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Also read: Israel-Hamas war, Day 46 LIVE updates November 21, 2023

Addressing the extraordinary virtual meeting of the grouping on the Gaza crisis, Mr. Xi called for safe passage for humanitarian relief and pressed for an end to the forced relocation of the Gaza Strip’s civilian population. The supply of water, energy, and electricity must also be restored in the Palestinian enclave, which has been battered by Israeli bombs, he emphasised.

Two-state solution

The Chinese President said that the only way out of the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian crisis is to implement the two-state solution, “restore the legitimate rights of the Palestinian nation”, and establish a sovereign and independent State of Palestine. He cautioned that without a fair solution of the Palestinian question, there can be no lasting peace and stability in West Asia.

Beijing’s declaration is significant as it comes soon after the Foreign Ministers of the Arab League and the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia and Jordan met with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the Chinese capital. They had called for a halt to the hostilities that have left more than 11,000 people in Gaza dead, a third of them children, and about 1.7 million homeless.

Mr. Xi urged all parties in the raging conflict to stop “all violence and attacks targeting civilians and release civilian detainees” to stop the loss of any more lives. He urged Israel to stop targeting Palestinian civilians “as a collective punishment”. The Chinese President also called on the international community to take concrete steps to prevent any further escalation of the conflict that could impact the stability of the entire region.

India condemns civilian deaths

Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not attend Tuesday’s virtual summit of the BRICS-Plus grouping that was held to discuss the Israel-Hamas conflict. The External Affairs Minister represented the PM at the virtual meeting and expressed India’s concern about the situation in Gaza and called for “direct and meaningful negotiation” between the Israeli authorities and the Palestinians.

“The ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza is causing immense human suffering, including to civilians, the elderly, women, and children. We welcome all efforts of the international community towards de-escalation. Right now there is an urgent need to ensure that humanitarian aid and relief effectively and safely reach the population of Gaza,” Mr. Jaishankar said, adding that all hostages should be released. “We believe there is a universal obligation to observe international humanitarian law,” he said.

The Minister “strongly condemned” the death of civilians, though he stopped short of calling for a ceasefire. Earlier, in a joint press conference, both Mr. Jaishankar and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong had called for the political aspirations of the Palestinian people to be addressed by implementing a two-state solution. “Australia has, under this government, expressed its view that settlements are contrary to international law and unhelpful for the two-state solution,” Ms. Wong said.

Divergent views

It is understood that Prime Minister Modi declined to attend the summit due to other commitments, including the campaign for the Rajasthan Assembly election. The decision to skip an appearance with the other leaders of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa grouping also indicates New Delhi’s discomfort with deliberations that were likely to be critical of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. Unlike all the other countries in the grouping, India has taken a stand that is closer to that of the United States and other western countries, by not demanding that Israeli forces cease fire, and abstaining from a UN General Assembly vote on a resolution calling for a ceasefire; all the other BRICS-Plus members voted in favour. 

The BRICS-plus meeting, an “extraordinary joint meeting on the Middle East situation” convened by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, included the group’s soon-to-be inducted new members: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

South Africa wants war crimes probe

South Africa and Israel have stepped up a diplomatic war, with the South African government formally referring Israel to the International Criminal Court to be investigated for alleged “war crimes” over its bombardment of the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the October 7 Hamas terror attacks. After South Africa recalled all its diplomats from Tel Aviv, and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) supported a motion in parliament calling for the Israeli Embassy in Pretoria to be shut down, Israel recalled its Ambassador to South Africa for “consultations” on Monday, citing the “latest statements”. 

In contrast, the strongest comment by Mr. Modi thus far, made at the Voice of Global South summit last week, was a “strong condemnation” of civilian deaths, and a call to focus on “restraint, dialogue, and diplomacy”. 

The BRICS meeting comes amidst moves by various members of the grouping to build pressure on the UN Security Council’s permanent members to pass a resolution calling for a complete halt in the bombing of Gaza. Last week, the UNSC had passed a resolution calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors” and the release of hostages; it did not call for an outright ceasefire. Israel, which lost about 1,200 citizens in the October 7 attacks, says it is seeking out Hamas command and control centres and a return of about 240 hostages that are still believed to be in Hamas custody. 

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