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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Norway welcomes ceasefire in Gaza

Norwegian government leaders were among those relieved by the announcement on Wednesday of a four-day pause in the war between Israel and the Palestinian organization Hamas. They repeated calls for peace talks, while also boosting funding for the Palestinians.

Norwegian officials at the border from Gaza into Egypt, over which scores of Norwegians finally have been able to cross, while humanitarian workers are anxious to get into Gaza with aid.  PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

“We’re setting aside another half-billion kroner in humanitarian aid, so that Norway can be there when the borders open,” said Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. He made the announcement at a conference in the mountain town of Gol hosted by trade union federation LO, at which the crisis in Gaza was high on the agenda.

Newspaper VG reported that Norway will boost humanitarian aid to Gaza by around NOK 350 million, along with donating another NOK 100 million to the Palestinian authorities and more millions for food. The money will be channeled through organizations that can be relied upon to make sure the aid reaches those in need.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, claimed the council would “do all we can to provide relief to those in need in Gaza during the four-day humanitarian pause.” Egeland, a former Norwegian diplomat and UN envoy, stressed, however, that “a pause of a few days is not enough time to address the immense needs after six weeks of fighting, bloodshed and destruction.” He claimed the ceasefire between armed groups in Gaza and Israel “must pave the way for a lasting ceasefire,” and said “all hostages must be released without delay.”

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre at a meeting of religious leaders in Oslo earlier this month, at which the war in Gaza topped the agenda. PHOTO: Arbeids- og inkluderingsdepartementet

Støre noted that after all the “gruesome” events of the past several weeks, “there must come a new tomorrow and a new situation through which we can negotiate a lasting peace in this region.”

His foreign minister Eide has advocated the same for weeks, eyeing an opportunity for Norway to once again get involved in efforts for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians who’ve been fighting over a homeland for decades.

“A ceasefire is something we’ve wanted for a long time,” Eide said on Wednesday. “We have told all parties that we want a lengthy ceasefire.” He doesn’t see any military solution to the current conflict, claiming a real solution “can only be found through negotiations, and I can see no better result in the long term than a two-state solution in which a legitimate Palestinian state can live in peace alongside Israel, and that they settle on that with one another.”

Norwegian citizens finally allowed to leave Gaza over the past few days have spoken of a “hell on earth” in Gaza, with their children forced to walk over parts of dead bodies as they headed for the only open border cross in the south. Truckloads of emergency supplies from Norway were ready to cross into Gaza, part of a massive international effort to meet the most pressing needs.

Norway’s chief rabbi, Michael Melchior, thinks and still hopes that peace is possible between Israel and Hamas. Melchior has been living in Israel but returned to Norway this week for the first time since Hamas first attacked Israel on October 7, setting off the past seven weeks of war. One of his sons and three of his grandchildren are soldiers in the Israelis war against Hamas.

Melchior remains committed to The Religious Peace Initiative, a peace organization he has led since 2009 He told newspaper Klassekampen that he has tried in recent weeks to “put out religious fires,” like when ultra-orthodox Jews wanted to walk up to Temple Mount and its mosque but he managed to stop them. He’s also spoken with people tied to Hamas and said he was among those involved in trying to free Hamas’ Israeli hostages.

He wouldn’t go into detail, “but I can say that I have worked with Muslim colleagues for many years, and had relations with religious leaders among Palestinians since the 1980s.” Now 69, Melchior still believes peace is possible even though he was “shocked and disappointed” by Hamas’ initial attacks.

“It was a personal disappointment becuase I know that there were very strong forces within Hamas who didn’t want the attack,” he told Klassekampen, “who didn’t want to go in the direction of Iran and Russia.” He won’t give up his own efforts to “avoid a great religious war.” He thinks it’s “God’s will” that “two peoples live between the river and the sea … forever, and that we have to figure out how.”

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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