China offers to facilitate Israel-Palestinian peace talks


Beijing (AP) — China’s foreign minister told his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts that his country is ready to help facilitate peace talks between the two sides, in its latest effort at mediation in the region.

In separate phone calls to the two officials on Monday, Qin Gang expressed China’s concern over intensifying tensions between Israel and Palestinians and its support for a resumption of peace talks, the Foreign Ministry said in statements issued late Monday.

Last month, Saudi Arabia and Iran reached a deal in China to restore diplomatic ties that were cut off in 2016. It was a dramatic moment of diplomacy for China that Beijing touted as evidence of its ability to be a diplomatic player in the Middle East.

Qin stressed in his talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen that Saudi Arabia and Iran have set a good example of overcoming differences through dialogue, a statement about that phone call said.

He told Cohen that Beijing encourages Israel and the Palestinians to show political courage and take steps to resume peace talks. “China is willing to provide convenience for this,” he was quoted as saying.

Israel and the Palestinians have not held substantive peace talks on ending the century-long conflict in over a decade. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is committed to expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank — which most of the international community considers illegal and an obstacle to peace — and several of his key allies are staunchly opposed to the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Cohen expressed his country’s commitment to reducing tensions, but said the problem appeared to be difficult to resolve in the short term, the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Qin and Cohen discussed “the importance of maintaining quiet at the Temple Mount, particularly in the final days of Ramadan,” the Muslim holy month, but made no mention of peace talks with the Palestinians.

It said that Cohen conveyed “the threat that we see in Iran’s nuclear program” and called on China to help prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Qin also told Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Riyad al-Maliki that China is willing to play an active role in the resumption of talks, a second statement said.

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin confirmed Qin’s outreach to the two officials. “It is never too late to do the right thing,” he said.

This month, violence in Israel and the West Bank has increased, touched off by an Israeli police raid on Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, the compound home to the Al-Aqsa mosque. The Israeli military struck sites linked to the Palestinian group Hamas in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip after militants in the two territories fired rocket salvos at Israel. The mosque sits on a contested hilltop revered as the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism.

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