Envoy sees Chinese role in Middle East

Updated: 2012-11-23 23:33

By Li Xiaokun (China Daily)

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China can play a "special role" in the Middle East, a Palestinian envoy said on Friday, a day after a cease-fire took effect following eight days of bloody fighting between Israel and militants in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Beijing has decided to give Palestine $1 million in urgent humanitarian aid, Bassam al-Salhi, an envoy of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said after talks with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Envoy sees Chinese role in Middle East

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi greets Bassam al-Salhi, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' envoy, before they hold a meeting in Beijing on Friday. [Feng Yongbin/China Daily]

Al-Salhi referred to China as a "broker" and a "mediator" in efforts to maintain calm in the region as well as seeking the status of Palestine as a non-member observer of the UN.

The envoy arrived in Beijing on Thursday for a three-day trip, after the fiercest fighting in years between Israel and Hamas militants killed 161 Palestinians and five Israelis.

A cease-fire brokered by Egypt came into effect on Thursday in Gaza.

Al-Salhi, also general secretary of the Palestinian People's Party, said Beijing could succeed in finding a solution to end hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians.

"We are very interested in the Chinese role in all the Middle East because all the Middle East needs more efforts from the international community.

"They want to be involved and we are interested in them being more involved.

"A special role (for) China is coming," he said.

According to a statement from the Foreign Ministry, Yang told al-Salhi that Beijing is happy to see the cease-fire agreement and hopes "relevant parties fulfill the cease-fire promise earnestly to avoid more conflicts".

"The Gaza conflict has once more exposed the importance and urgency of solving the Palestinian issue," Yang said.

The minister also said "China understands, respects and supports Palestine's decision" to seek a state observer status at the UN.

Palestine wants China to help press for an upgrade in the Palestinians' UN status from permanent observer to non-member observer, which could boost their chances of joining additional UN bodies such as the International Criminal Court.

Israel and the US oppose the move, saying Palestinians should negotiate their statehood via peace talks and not conduct unilateral moves.

"China will join hands with the international community and continue playing an active and constructive role in seeking a comprehensive and fair settlement of the Palestinian issue," Yang said.

AP said in a report on Friday that Al-Salhi's visit is "the latest sign of Beijing's growing influence in the Middle East".

It cited a proposal Beijing made late last month to tackle the Syrian crisis "region by region and stage by stage".

But Dong Manyuan, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, said as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has tried its best to push for the Palestinian issue, yet how much it contributes has to be based on China's national conditions.

"The $1 million is a kind regard for the Palestine people. It will alert the global community of the humanitarian crisis there. China is sending a clear signal on that," Dong said.

Yin Gang, an expert on Middle East studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said so far there is no sign of major change in Beijing's policies on the Palestinian issue.

As for the future of the region, Yin said the cease-fire could be "quite effective".

"Hamas would like to obey it. Actually it does not want to continue the fighting, and the conflict this time was not raised by Hamas either," he said.

Dong also said Hamas would need time to recover its military power that was hard hit by Israel.

"And as long as Hamas does not launch Qassam rockets at Israel, the possibility of Israel launching large attacks against Hamas could be basically ruled out," he said.

But that does not mean Israel would not attack key Hamas leaders, Dong added.

AFP and AP contributed to this story.