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International reactions to the massive escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas poured in on Saturday and Sunday, revealing distinct divisions as to how the conflict is seen in capitals around the world.
Nearly 1,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Israel and Gaza following Saturday’s shock Hamas offensive into southern Israel and a massive Israeli aerial bombardment of Gaza which is continuing.
For some, particularly in western capitals, Hamas was to blame for a “terrorist attack,” and statements from the US, UK, Italy, France and Canada repeated the line that Israel had a right to defend itself.
Less attention was given however, to recent Israeli settler violence in the occupied West Bank, provocations in Al Aqsa mosque, and the hundreds of civilians killed in Gaza in air strikes this year.
China, the African Union and Uganda mentioned long-term efforts to resolve the crisis by specifically referencing the creation of a legitimate Palestinian state, or the “two state solution.” Likewise, the UAE and Indonesia urged de-escalation and a swift return to internationally backed peace talks.
In Western capitals, leaders were quick to back Israel. President Joe Biden said on Sunday that US support for Israel was “rock solid and unwavering,” while US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the US would, “ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself and protect civilians from indiscriminate violence and terrorism.”
Likewise, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany “stands by Israel,” in a statement on X, saying the Hamas attack was “terrifying news.”
Canada’s Justin Trudeau condemned “the current terrorist attacks against Israel,” and said his country supported Israel’s “right to defend itself.” Perhaps making a nod to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, he added “civilian life must be protected.” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also said “Israel has an absolute right to defend itself.”
While making no reference to Gaza, France’s Emmanuel Macron expressed “full solidarity with the victims,” and said Paris was committed to Israel's “right to defend themselves.”
EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen also called the attack “terrorism in its most despicable form.”
Calls for restraint
Other countries made statements to highlight the suffering unfolding on both sides, calling for “restraint.” Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned the Hamas attack strongly, but added that “Japan is deeply concerned about a number of casualties in Gaza as well.”
The UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged immediate de-escalation, noting how “the UAE, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, urges the international community to immediately reactivate the international Quartet to revive the path process of Arab-Israeli peace, and increase all efforts to achieve a just and comprehensive peace, and prevent the region from experiencing further violence.”
Indonesia condemned violence on both sides and also urged a return to the peace process, saying that “acts of violence stop immediately to avoid increasing human casualties. The root of the conflict, namely the occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel, must be resolved according to the parameters agreed upon by the UN.”
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry likewise called for an “immediate cessation of violence,” while also saying it had “repeatedly warned of the dangers of an explosive situation as a result of the continued occupation and deprivation of the Palestinian people of their legitimate rights.”
Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, warned of “grave consequences” and called for “exercising maximum restraint and avoiding exposing civilians to further danger”.
UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland also warned that both sides were near “a dangerous precipice, and I appeal to all to pull back from the brink.”
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov also refrained from assigning blame for the escalation which Israel has declared a war, calling for restraint from all sides.
Israeli occupation anger
Some countries however, put the bulk of the blame for the violence on Israel, with implied references to a year of escalating violence in the occupied Palestinian territories, and calls from some far-right members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet to take extreme action against Palestinian communities.
Qatar's foreign ministry held Israel “solely responsible for the continuing escalation due to its continuous violations of the rights of the Palestinian people, including its recent repeated intrusions into the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque under the protection of the Israeli police.”
Referencing the escalation of violence this year, starkly illustrated by a settler rampage through the community of Huwara in February that left one Palestinian dead and dozens of homes burnt, Kuwait's foreign ministry urged Israel to “stop the provocative practices by the occupation” and the “policy of expanding settlements”.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Iran, which maintains strong ties with Palestinian armed groups including Hamas, expressed strong support for the group's operations in Israel, with President Ebrahim Raisi holding a call with the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another group in Gaza, on Sunday.
Earlier, his senior adviser Ali Akbar Velayati hailed the operation as a “victory” against Israel. Mr Raisi later said in a televised address that Iran supported the “legitimate defence of the Palestinian nation.”