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G7 foreign ministers set for talks in Japan, Israel-Gaza war to top agenda

Foreign ministers of seven global powers along with the European Union are gathering in Japan for two days of talks that will centre on Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza.

Top diplomats of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as the EU – which make up the Group of Seven (G7) bloc of democracies – are due to hold talks in Tokyo on Tuesday – as the death toll in Gaza mounts and concerns grow that the war could devolve into a regional crisis.

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Israel, after a surprise attack on October 7 by Hamas, the group that rules Gaza, that killed more than 1,400 people in Israel, has waged a monthlong assault on the Gaza Strip, relentlessly bombarding the enclave and sending in ground forces for the first time since 2014.

Israeli attacks have killed more than 10,000 Palestinians, more than a third of them children, according to Gaza’s officials, while displacing 1.5 million people and decimating much of the territory’s infrastructure.

The war will feature prominently in the G7 meeting, but reaching common ground may be challenging due to the countries’ varying political and economic loyalties, analysts said.

“Europeans are divided and this division is also certainly visible within the G7,” said Thomas Gomart, director of the French Institute of International Relations.

G7 members will also discuss the Ukraine war, relations with China, and deepening ties with Central Asia.

Host Japan has largely taken a cautious approach to the Middle East crisis, resisting pressure to fall in line with the pro-Israel stance of its closest ally, the US, officials and analysts say.

The US has provided firm backing to Israel, offering it a $14.5bn military aid package amid the war and voting with it against a “humanitarian truce” at the United Nations General Assembly last month.

France voted in favour of the “humanitarian truce” while all other G7 member countries abstained.

For the bloc, agreeing on specific wording on Israel’s right to defend itself, the civilian casualties in Gaza, and calls for a temporary halt in fighting will be difficult, officials say.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who touched down in Tokyo on Tuesday morning after holding three days of strained talks with the leaders throughout the Middle East, has said Washington is working “very aggressively” to expand aid for trapped civilians in Gaza.

“I think we will see in the days ahead that the assistance can expand in significant ways,” Blinken said on Monday, without providing details.

Renewed support for Ukraine

Another focus of the G7 meet-up will be Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has lost global attention due to the bloodshed in Gaza.

The G7 was expected to stick to firm language condemning Moscow and reaffirm its commitment to Ukraine.

“Our commitment to continue strict sanctions against Russia and strong support for Ukraine has not wavered at all, even as the situation in the Middle East intensifies,” Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa told a news conference before the meeting.

The gathering will include a virtual meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

G7 has been at the forefront of sanctions on Russia since Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

In the latest move aimed at ramping up economic pressure on Russia, the group is considering proposals to impose sanctions on Russian diamonds.

Strengthening Japan-UK ties

UK’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is set to meet Kamikawa on the sidelines of the gathering to discuss intensifying military cooperation with Japan under a new pact that allows their militaries to enter each other’s territories for joint exercises.

These talks, also featuring British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps and Japan’s Defence Minister Minoru Kihara, are likely to include expanding joint exercises and cooperation in new areas such as space and cybersecurity, based on the Japan-UK Hiroshima Accord reached in May.

Japan in December announced a new mid- to long-term security strategy to build up its security and defence – including counterstrike capability – in a significant shift from its self-defence-only principle adopted after the last world war.

Eyeing Central Asia

Foreign ministers of five Central Asian countries are also expected to participate online in the Tokyo gathering, as the grouping aims to deepen ties to the region amid the Ukraine war.

Ministers of former Soviet nations Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan will join for talks on Wednesday.

G7 leaders have recently increased outreach to these resource-rich countries, with French President Emmanuel Macron making stops in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan last week during his Central Asia tour, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida planning a similar trip in 2024.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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