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Norway won’t take sides in Middle East

As many as 200 Norwegian citizens are among those caught in Gaza as battles continue between Israeli military forces and Hamas, representing Palestinians in Gaza. Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide was in Cairo over the weekend, attending meetings aimed at getting emergency aid into Gaza and warding off further escalation of war in the Middle East, while still trying not to take sides.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide attended the hastily called Cairo Summit for Peace in Egypt over the weekend. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

At least half of the Norwegians in Gaza are children. The Norwegian foreign ministry’s crisis team reports they’re working around the clock to get them out, while also urging Norwegians in Lebanon to leave as quickly as possible, in case the fighting spreads.

“We have information that there are injured Norwegians in Gaza and this is what we’ve feared,” Guro Markussen Løvaas, leader of the ministry’s crisis team, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Monday afternoon. “We’re working through our crisis team here in Oslo and out at our stations. We also have many citizens who are without food and water.”

She said the situation remained “chaotic and unpredictable” in Gaza, and that the ministry was trying to remain in contact with those still in Gaza via phone, social media and other channels. Foreign Minister Eide, meanwhile, said a team was standing ready at Gaza’s southern border to Egypt to receive Norwegians if they manage to get out. “They’ll get escorts down through Sinai in a coordinated effort that Israel must tolerate and that Egypt is ready to assist,” Eide told NRK.

The drama and humanitarian crises in the Middle East entered their second week on Monday, also after a weekend of meetings in Cairo among other nations keen to settle the conflict. “Getting sufficient humanitarian aid into Gaza is urgent,” said Eide, who took over his ministerial post just as the new crisis began. “In addition we must prevent the conflict between Israel and Hamas from escalating further and having serious regional consequences. If there is to be a lasting peace, we must think beyond weapons.”

Topping the agenda in Cairo, though, was what Eide called “the immense human suffering in Gaza.” Eide stressed that all parties “must comply with international humanitarian law” and that they “have a duty to protect civilians, hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure. Civilians must never be used as shields.” While Norway “has been clear about Israel’s right to self-defense,” Eide said “all such measures must be carried out in accordance with humanitarian law. Civilians must be protected.” He stressed that there “are no safe places in Gaza” at present.

He also claimed that both the Palestinians and Israels “are duty-bound to make it possible” for aid to enter Gaza. Only a small amount was finally allowed in on Sunday.

Eide said that Norway is also making a “strong appeal” for the release of the approximately 200 Israeli hostages that Hamas is still holding captive in Gaza. “I ask that all hostages in Gaza be released immediately,” he said, adding that the Red Cross “must be permitted access to everyone who has been taken hostage.”

Norway, which has been involved in peace efforts in the Middle East for decades, continues to advocate a two-state solution to the crisis, “one for Israelis, one for Palestinians,” Eide said. “Norway has been committed to that for more than 30 years.” He further stated that “regardless of the outcome of the ongoing war, I am convinced that there is no alternative to resuming political discussions and continuing on the road to a peace process. Thirty years after the Oslo Accords, Norway still believes that the two-state solution and an end to the occupation will benefit both parties, and that this would be the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” He added that the process “has been deadlocked for far too long.”

Norway has maintained contact with both Israeli and Palestinian officials, also with Hamas at the administrative level. While some conservative members of the Norwegian Parliament are calling on the government to cut dialogue with Hamas, newspaper Klassekampen notes that contact continued during the last Conservatives-led government. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store of the current Labour-Center government coalition has since resisted calling Hamas a “terrorist organization” while also refusing to accuse Israel of war crimes. Norway has, meanwhile, both condemned Hamas’ initial attacks on Israel that set off the current conflict and condemned Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

To read Eide’s full address at the summit in Cairo, click here (external link to the Norwegian foreign ministry’s website). 

Norway, meanwhile, announced a new contribution of NOK 60 million (around USD 6 million) to support humanitarian work by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in the region. Norway continues to lead the international donor group for Palestine and urged other countries to also continue economic support. “This is not the time to turn our backs on the Palestinians,” Eide said.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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