Israel cannot carry out ‘collective punishment’ of people in Gaza: Lavrov


The Russian foreign minister says it is unacceptable that Israel is using Hamas’s October 7 offensive as justification for a collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza and has called for international monitoring of the situation on the ground in the besieged enclave.

Speaking virtually at the Doha Forum on Sunday, Sergey Lavrov told Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays the unprecedented attack by Hamas inside the Israeli territory did not happen in a vacuum.

It was due to “decades and decades of a blockade [in Gaza] and decades and decades of unfulfilled promises to the Palestinians that they would have a state, living side to side with Israel in security and good neighbourliness”, he said.

At least 17,700 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October 7 – 70 percent of them women and children, prompting rights bodies and experts to call it a “genocide”.

In Israel, the revised official death toll from the Hamas attack stands at about 1,147.

Addressing the Doha Forum, a two-day global meeting being held in the Qatari capital, Lavrov said the ongoing war in Gaza is about “cancel culture” – a recent phenomenon that refers to the mass withdrawal of support to public figures or celebrities who did things in the past that are no more acceptable today.

“Whatever you don’t like in the events which lead to a situation, you cancel,” he said.

Netanyahu speaks to Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called Israel’s offensive in Gaza a failure of US diplomacy and suggested that Moscow could be a mediator in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Moscow has also condemned this week’s US veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s representative at the UN, said US diplomacy was “leaving scorched earth in its wake”.

Shortly after Lavrov spoke at the Doha Forum, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a telephone conversation with Putin, expressing his “displeasure” at Moscow’s positions against Israel at the UN and other global forums.

“The prime minister emphasised that any country that would suffer a criminal terrorist attack such as Israel experienced would act with no less force than the one Israel is using,” read a statement from Netanyahu’s office.

Lavrov’s comments to Al Jazeera came as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to rage. Since February 2022, Ukraine has faced a full-scale Russian invasion that has seen its eastern territories occupied.

Lavrov, however, dubbed it a “hybrid war on Russia launched by the United States and NATO”, adding that the Ukraine conflict is also based on cancel culture.

“It is not a war of choice [for Russia]. It is the operation which we could not avoid, given the years and years of the US and NATO preparing Ukraine to be an instrument to undermine Russia’s security,” he said.

Lavrov said the Ukrainian government had passed legislation intended to cancel “everything Russian”, including language, media, culture and education.

“This [law] is against people who for generations have been living in eastern and southern Ukraine … The only thing the Western media is being encouraged to say is that Russia invaded Ukraine,” he told Bays.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, however, insists it was Moscow that spurred the current phase of “de-Russification efforts” in the country.

“You are doing it – in one generation’s lifetime and forever,” he said in a televised address in March last year.

“You are doing your best so that our people abandon the Russian language, because Russian will be associated with you, only with you, with these explosions and killings, with your crimes.”__Al Jazeera