As the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas collapsed, some world leaders at the UN climate summit criticised Israel yesterday and called for the Gaza war to end, while US and UK officials held meetings on the conflict on the gathering’s sidelines.
The war’s prominence in speeches at the Dubai event served to highlight international divisions over the bloodshed and presented a distraction for a summit where nations are trying to find consensus on the shared threat posed by climate change.
“While discussing the climate crisis, we cannot ignore the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Palestinian territories right beside us,” Turkiye’s President Tayyip Erdogan told leaders during his formal speech to the COP28 conference.
“The current situation in Gaza constitutes a war crime and a crime against humanity; those responsible must be held accountable under international law,” he said.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa echoed the sentiment.
“South Africa is appalled by the cruel tragedy that is under way in Gaza. The war against the innocent people of Palestine is a war crime that must be ended now,” he said in his address.
Jordan’s King Abdullah said it was difficult to focus on global warming while the fighting was going on.
“This year’s conference of the parties must recognise even more than ever that we cannot talk about climate change in isolation from the humanitarian tragedies unfolding around us,” he said.
A group of demonstrators at the conference, some wearing shirts that spelled “ceasefire”, chanted “Free Palestine”. Elsewhere on the summit grounds, a display of shoes was meant to represent the thousands killed in Gaza.
An Israeli official told Reuters the military was abiding by international law and was intent on destroying the fighter group Hamas.
Protests, while a common feature of climate conferences, are a rarity in the United Arab Emirates, the COP28’s host nation. A COP28 spokesperson said “the UAE protects the right to protests in line with relevant international agreements.” “Today was pretty awful,” Mohamed Ursof, a Palestinian student from Gaza based in Qatar and attending the summit, said of the resumption in fighting. The “international youth delegate” said he would try to raise awareness at the COP28 conference of the Palestinian cause.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday that he met officials from Arab states and discussed the future of the Gaza Strip on the sidelines of the COP28. A senior State Department official said Blinken met foreign ministers from Qatar, the UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain, alongside representatives of the Palestinian Authority.
The office of the British prime minister said Rishi Sunak and Qatar Amir His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, both at the Dubai conference, discussed their deep regret over the collapse of the temporary pause in fighting.
Israel’s President Isaac Herzog was also at COP28, where a day earlier he met UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
Israel’s bombardment and invasion of Gaza has killed over 15,000 Palestinians, according to Gazan health officials. It was launched in retaliation for a storming by Hamas fighters into Israel in the first week of October.
Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifah and Iraq’s President Abdul Latif Rashid called for an end to the war.
Iran’s delegation left the summit in protest at Israel’s presence, Iranian media reported, while Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro linked environmental issues with the war.
“If Palestine could be free today then tomorrow humanity will escape alive out of the throes of the climate crisis,” he said.
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