China’s Middle East envoy visits region gripped by Israel-Hamas crisis

HONG KONG — China’s special envoy for the Middle East has embarked on a visit to the region as Beijing attempts to play a more visible role in efforts to de-escalate the conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas.

Zhai Jun’s itinerary has not been made public, but state media has reported that the diplomat, who spent decades in the region before becoming special envoy in 2019, would visit “relevant countries” to push for a cease-fire and promote peace talks. He landed in Qatar on Thursday, according to reports.

His trip comes nearly two weeks after Hamas fighters breached Israeli territory and rampaged through communities on Oct. 7, killing over 1,400 people and taking scores of hostages, according to authorities. Israeli retaliation against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has killed more than 3,700, local officials say.

Zhai arrived on the heels of U.S. President Joe Biden, who visited Israel on Wednesday in a show of solidarity. Galia Lavi, deputy director of an Israel-China policy center at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies, said Zhai’s visit would be largely symbolic. “I don’t think that he wants to do anything,” Lavi said. “His job is to broadcast China’s narrative to the world. His job is not to try to put an end to this war or to make some kind of mediation between the parties.”

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