With reporting from Riham Sheble
As Gaza’s bloodiest day since Israel began its latest bombing campaign came to a close last night, senior Palestinian and United Nations officials gathered in Qatar to discuss ways to end the offensive.
More than 100 Palestinians and 13 soldiers were killed on day 13 of the conflict yesterday.
The toll now nears 500 Palestinians, many of them women and children. The sheer number of civilian deaths has prompted Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, as well as Qatar’s Foreign Minister, to call for an end to the violence.
Qatar was Ban’s first stop on a Middle Eastern tour to broker peace. This week, the official, who also met with the Emir, is planning to visit Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Palestine and Israel.
In a press conference held at the Four Seasons Doha last night, Ban said, according to his prepared remarks:
“The people of the region are living through tense and trying times. Too many innocent civilians are dying. Too many women and children are the victims of appalling attacks.
Too many people are living in constant fear of the next missile, the next air strike, the next rocket attack…While I was en route to Doha, dozens more civilians, including children, have been killed in Israeli military strikes in the Shejaia neighborhood in Gaza.”
The official further condemned the “atrocious action,” calling for an immediate ceasefire, and asked that Israel “exercise maximum restraint and do far more to protect civilians.”
Qatar’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Khalid bin Muhammad Al Attiyah, also spoke last night, criticizing Israel’s military action:
“The State of Qatar is still following with deep concern the serious developments on the Palestinian area, and in this regard condemns all acts of aggression committed by Israel against the Palestinian people, and the most recent massacre (in) Shejaia today, in which more victims were children.”
Qatar as mediator
Al Attiyah also discussed the country’s role in brokering peace in the region. Qatar is seen as well-placed to mediate because of its ties with Hamas leaders, some of whom are based out of Doha.
But there has been some infighting over which country could serve as the best mediator. Last week, Hamas rejected a ceasefire agreement proposed by Egypt, saying it did not take its demands into consideration.
Officials in Egypt and Israel, which supported the deal, blamed Qatar and Turkey for what happened.
Alluding to these tensions, Al Attiyah said, according to QNA:
“We in Qatar do not claim that we have a special initiative .. we just conveyed the demands of the Palestinian people, and is not important, then who would achieve the conditions of the Palestinian people, if justice has been achieved.”
Speaking to Doha News, the Palestinian Ambassador to Doha also said the Egyptians’ role in the peace process is not being discounted. Munir Ghannam said:
“Of course, all options are open and the Egyptian side has to be involved because the fact is that the situation on the ground in Gaza cannot be separated from Egypt. It is possible that certain elements of the Egyptian initiative will be considered as long as a consensus is reached.”
Still, it remains unclear if President Abbas will meet with Hamas’ political chief Khaled Meshal, who is based in Doha. The two belong to different political parties that are often at odds in the Palestinian territories.
After the press conference, Ban moved to the Ritz-Carlton Doha, where he met with Abbas in a closed-door session.
While neither officials were available for comment after the meeting, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat fielded questions from reporters.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Erekat said all parties involved were working together to come up with a solution:
“There are a lot of analysts saying that Qatar’s position (on Gaza) is against Egypt’s position, is against Turkey’s position. I listened to HH Sheikh Tamim, Mr. Erdogen, Mr. Gull, and President Sisi, and I know that there are real disputes between Qatar and Egypt and Egypt and Turkey…But we find that they are putting disagreements aside to stop the bloodshed.”
Erakat, a prominent member of the Palestinian government, was instrumental in negotiating the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in 1993.
Last night, he specified terms for a Hamas-backed ceasefire, which included an end to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza port, reopening of border crossings and the release of Palestinian prisoners from the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange.
He added that these were not terms of an agreement or conditions, but rather commitments made by Israel that they had to adhere to.
Speaking to AP, Erakat also stressed the need for a “monitoring and verification mechanism,” presumably to ensure ceasefire agreements are adhered to. This point wasn’t included in the 2012 ceasefire agreement brokered by the US and Egypt.
Like Ban, he too echoed that a two-state solution would be the only permanent end to the crisis, saying, “We cannot have a ceasefire and then go…the day after…to the current situation.”
According to breaking news reports that coincided with the meeting with Abbas and Ban, Hamas’ military wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigade claimed the capture of Israeli soldier Shaul Aron.
In a televised address, Abu Ubaida, spokesperson from Al-Qassam announced the capture, and read out what he claimed to be Aron’s identity tag number.
A captured prisoner would give Hamas a great deal of negotiating power with Israel.
A 2006 capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, then a 19-year-old, led to the largest prisoner exchange deal ever agreed upon by Israel; 1,027 prisoners, mostly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis were released when the deal was brokered in 2011.
However, Israel has denied the latest claim.
Speaking in New York, Israeli ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor said, “There’s no kidnapped Israeli soldier and those rumors are untrue.”