ASEAN, Australia Call For 'Immediate' Ceasefire In Gaza

Photo: Collected

Photo: Collected

Southeast Asian and Australian leaders on Wednesday called for a quick and lasting ceasefire in Gaza, describing the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territory as "dire".

"We urge for an immediate and durable humanitarian ceasefire," said the leaders of 11 nations -- including Muslim-majority Indonesia and Malaysia -- after days of diplomatic wrangling over the text.

The deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip was a topic of fierce debate as leaders from the 10-nation ASEAN bloc convened in Melbourne for a three-day summit with their Australian counterparts.

With the Muslim holy month of Ramadan around the corner, the United States and a growing list of nations have been stepping up efforts to secure some kind of pause in fighting.

"We condemn attacks against all civilians and civilian infrastructure, leading to further deterioration of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza including restricted access to food, water, and other basic needs," ASEAN and Australia said.

"We call for rapid, safe, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to all those in need, including through increased capacity at border crossings, including by sea."

The group also backed the UN's Palestinian refugee agency, despite Australia pausing the group's funding over allegations some of its staff were members of armed militant Islamist groups.

Singapore had baulked at a suggestion the statement condemn "the use of starvation" in the Gaza Strip, language that would have infuriated Israel.

Diplomats also argued over whether the statement should call for a total ceasefire -- or a more temporary "humanitarian" pause.

Southeast Asia is home to about 40 percent of the world's Muslim population, and ASEAN heavyweights Indonesia and Malaysia are staunch supporters of the Palestinian cause.

But other influential ASEAN nations such as Singapore have closer ties with Israel -- and are less eager to stoke controversy.

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