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In apparent shift, Britain & Germany call for a ‘sustainable cease-fire’ in Gaza

Berlin: As US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin travels to the Middle East on Sunday to press Israel to scale back its military campaign against Hamas in Gaza, two of Israel’s most important allies are urging the same — while advocating for a “sustainable” cease-fire.

In a joint opinion article published in The Sunday Times of London, the foreign secretaries of Britain and Germany displayed an important change in tone from their previous, all-out support for Israel. That echoes an apparent tonal shift from Washington, which has said Israel must do more to minimize harm to civilians in Gaza.

David Cameron of Britain and Annalena Baerbock of Germany argued, as has US President Joe Biden, that calls for an immediate cease-fire would only benefit Hamas. And they echoed the Biden administration in saying that “too many civilians have been killed” in Gaza by the Israeli military.

But they expressed support for a cease-fire that would go beyond a temporary pause in the fighting. Calls for an immediate cease-fire, they wrote, are “an understandable reaction to such intense suffering, and we share the view that this conflict cannot drag on and on. That is why we supported the recent humanitarian pauses.”

“Our goal cannot simply be an end to fighting today. It must be peace lasting for days, years, generations,” they added. “We therefore support a cease-fire, but only if it is sustainable.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far rejected calls for an immediate cease-fire and has opposed US calls for Gaza to be governed by a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority as a stage toward a two-state solution. In a news conference Saturday night, Netanyahu boasted that he was “proud” to have prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state and described the Oslo Accords as “a fateful mistake.”

Cameron and Baerbock wrote that Israel has the right to defend itself, but it “must abide by international humanitarian law” and do more to protect civilians in Gaza. And its friends must push for a long-term solution embodying two states for two peoples, they said.

“Israel will not win this war if its operations destroy the prospect of peaceful coexistence with Palestinians,” they wrote, while noting that “leaving Hamas in power in Gaza would be a permanent roadblock on the path to a two-state solution.”

Their call for a sustainable cease-fire came as the French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna arrived in Israel for talks. Colonna reiterated Sunday that France was calling for a truce to facilitate the release of any remaining hostages and to get more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

“What we think and what we say is that an immediate truce is needed, to move towards a cease-fire,” Colonna said, a day after her ministry confirmed that an Israeli bombing had killed one of its employees in southern Gaza.

US officials have made it clear that they are asking the Israelis to move in the next few weeks to a less-violent phase of the war, using smaller squads of elite forces that would move in and out of population centers in Gaza, conducting more precise, intelligence-driven missions to find and kill Hamas leaders, rescue hostages and destroy tunnels.

(Published 18 December 2023, 03:43 IST)

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