China protests calls to include Taiwan in climate talks

TEL AVIV, Israel — Hundreds of Israelis gathered in what has come to be known as Hostages Square in Tel Aviv on Saturday to call for the release of nearly 140 people still being held captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

As speakers took to the stage, the crowd held placards bearing messages like “they trust us to get them out of hell”, and “bring them home now”.

Ruby Chen, the father of 19-year-old hostage Itai Chen, said from the podium: “We are asking the Israeli cabinet, the war cabinet, to explain what exactly is on the negotiating table.

“We demand to be part of the negotiation process,” added Chen, whose son is a soldier and was taken while on duty. 

“Get them o ut now, immediately, whatever the price might be.”

Demonstrator Yoav Zalmanovitz said the government “did not care” about the hostages.

“They want revenge,” he told AFP.

Zalmanovitz said his 85-year-old father, Arye, was taken alive to Gaza and died there weeks later.

Hamas dragged around 240 hostages back to Gaza during its bloody October 7 attack on Israel, and fears for their safety have gripped the public through eight weeks of war.

A one-week truce deal that ended on December 1 saw 105 hostages released from Ga za, among them 80 Israelis — mostly women and children — freed in exchange for 240 Palestinians jailed by Israel.

However, efforts to revive the deal have stalled, and Israel says at least 137 hostages are believed to still be in Hamas captivity.

In a video testimony played at the rally, freed hostage Margalit Moses, 77, said she was hauled off to a tunnel under Gaza, where one of her Hamas guards took away a machine she used to help her breathe at night.

“Forty-nine days I did not sleep,” she said. 

“There were mental difficulties, there were physical difficulties, and every day that passes it becomes more and more difficult.”

“Every day feels like an eternity… Whether it’s the hunger, the longing for family,” 18-year-old Itay Regev said of his captivity in another clip.

In the crowd on Saturday, Eli Eliezer, who said he had a relative among those still being held, told AFP the government should have prioritised returning the hostages over pressing its war against Hamas.

“They should have made a deal earlier,” the 61-year-old engineer said. “It’s the government’s job to keep its people and its land safe.”

Earlier on Saturday, 25-year-old Sahar Baruch, who hailed from one of the kibbutzim hit hardest on October 7, became the latest captive to be confirmed dead.

He was “kidnapped from his home by Hamas terrorists to Gaza… and murdered there”, the community of Beeri and the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said in a joint statement, without providing evidence.

The day before, Hamas had posted a video purporting to show Baruch’s body, saying he was killed during a failed rescue attempt. AFP was unable to independently verify the video’s authenticity.

In late October, Israeli soldier Ori Megidish, 19, was rescued in a military operation just over three weeks after she was kidnapped from an observation post on the heavily militarised Gaza border.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas in retaliation for the October 7 attack, which Israeli officials say killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Its relentless bombardments and ground campaign in the Gaza Strip have killed at least 17,700 people, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

DUBAI, United Arab of Emirates — China on Saturday lodged a protest after calls at the UN climate talks in Dubai to include Taiwan, the self-governing democracy claimed by Beijing.

Two of the dwindling number of countries that recognise Taiwan — Guatemala and the tiny Pacific island of Nauru — both hailed support from Taipei in addresses at the COP28 conference.

“I would take this opportunity to make special reference to the government of Taiwan, a friendly country which has contributed via international cooperation to development projects to bolster adaptation and resilience projects on climate change,” said Marco Vinicio Ochoa, a vice minister from the Central American country.

“Therefore, we call for them to be able to participate in this important forum,” he said.

A representative from Beijing exercised a right to respond to raise objections.

“A handful of countries ignored the fact that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China and made noises about the participation by the Taiwan authorities,” she said.

“In fact, the Taiwan region can contribute to the global climate change fight through existing arrangements.”

The United Nations booted out Taiwan, formally the Republic of China, in 1971 and Beijing in recent years has stepped up pressure on countries to refuse even a semblance of recognition to Taiwan.

Taiwan has nonetheless submitted an action plan to curb climate change to the UN climate body in line with the 2015 accord and in Dubai took out advertisements in public places to highlight its activities.

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