Asean-Australia summit struggles to agree on Gaza

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - MELBOURNE, March 6 — Leaders from South-east Asia and Australia were today struggling to find common ground on the escalating crisis in Gaza, with nations split on a joint declaration.

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.

A draft joint Asean -Australian statement, obtained by AFP, showed there was broad agreement behind a call for “an immediate and durable humanitarian ceasefire”.

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“We condemn attacks against all civilians and civilian infrastructure, leading to a further deterioration of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza including restricted access to food, water, and other basic needs,” the latest draft read.

A working draft of the joint declaration earlier in the week hinted at the deep divisions on display behind closed doors.

Singapore baulked at a suggestion to condemn “the use of starvation” in the Gaza Strip, language likely to infuriate Israel.

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Diplomats also argued over whether the statement should call for a total ceasefire — or a more temporary “humanitarian” pause.

South-east Asia is home to some 40 per cent 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. — AFP

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